Club Shadowlands by Cherise Sinclair

  Jessica rolled her eyes. “Sorry, but I’m not into pushing guys around.” Well, not unless they’d messed up their accounts, or forgotten to save their travel expense receipts. But order a guy around in bed? Major chill factor there, even without adding a whip into the business. Ugh.

  He looked so disappointed, she patted him on the head before turning away. He tipped his head back to rub his cheek against her hand like an oversized cat.

  This place was so strange.

  Turning away, she continued her tour with only a touch of trepidation. After all, it couldn’t get much worse than women hanging on walls, right?

  Farther down, another small area was roped off, and Jessica stopped with a quick breath of astonishment. Damn, the guy had been serious about the whipping stuff. Face against the wall, a naked woman hung from shackled wrists. A short, muscular man wearing only studded black leather pants stood behind her slapping a thin cane into his open palm. Testing it. With a whooshing sound, the wooden stick smacked against the redhead’s bare buttocks. The sound made Jessica cringe even before the woman’s high shriek.

  Jessica took a step forward, her stomach queasy. This wasn’t right, shouldn’t be allowed. Another step, pushing past the observers, and she’d reached the ropes defining the area. She bit her lip. Stop and think, she told herself.

  The man had paused, and…the woman was laughing, her voice sultry, obviously more excited than hurt despite the red mark streaking her skin. Glancing back over her shoulder, the redhead wiggled her butt at the cane wielder in an invitingly lewd fashion.

  All right. The woman obviously wanted to be hit. Hurt. This was way too strange; definitely not fantasy material. Jessica eyed the cane.

  “Ouch,” she said under her breath.

  A man standing next to her smiled. His beefy build in glossy black PVC clothing made him look like a tank.

  “Sounds to me like you’d like to participate,” he said, his hand closing around her arm. “There’s an empty St. Andrew’s cross farther down.”

  She gasped. “No. No, I’m not—”

  He dragged her away from the crowd as she tried to pry his fingers off her arm. Dammit, was she going to have to scream or something? Would anyone in this bizarre place even notice? Screams were happening everywhere. Dear God, all sorts of bad things could happen without anyone realizing. Her hands went sweaty as fear shocked through her. Then anger hit. This was not going to happen.

  Planting her feet, she hauled off and kicked him in the knee.

  “Shit!” He jerked her off balance, and she landed on her knees in front of him. “Bitch, you’ll regret defying me,” he growled. He grabbed her hair, fingers tightening until tears filled her eyes.

  Chapter Three

  “Let me—”

  “Let her go.” A figure loomed behind her assailant. The owner. Sir himself. Jessica’s fists opened as relief filled her.

  “Consensual is the operative word here, and she’s not consenting,” Sir said in that deep, smooth voice.

  The jerk spun around, still holding her by the hair. “She did. You should have seen her watching the whipping. She wants it.”

  “Actually, she doesn’t. She has no interest in being whipped and no interest in you.” Sir’s hand closed around the fingers wrapped in her hair, and a second later, she was free.

  Her legs were shaking too badly for her to rise. Hugging herself, she huddled in place. Another man appeared, this one with a yellow badge on his leather vest. “Problems here?”

  The jerk pointed at Sir. “He interrupted my scene.”

  “Did you just accuse Master Z of interrupting a scene?” The bouncer sounded shocked. “Master Z?”

  “She’s unwilling.” Sir held out a hand to Jessica, and she grasped it. His hand was hard, muscular, and he pulled her to her feet so easily it was frightening. “Are you all right, little one?”

  She drew in a breath and nodded. If she tried to talk, her voice would come out wussy, so she’d just keep her mouth shut.

  “Come here.” Master Z wrapped an arm around her, tucked her into his side. He was so big, she felt tiny next to him. Tiny, delicate. Female.

  The jerk’s grab at Jessica was intercepted by Master Z, and then the bouncer had him by the collar.

  “Mark him down for a month’s suspension and to repeat the entire training class if he wishes to return after that,” Master Z told the bouncer. “He apparently wasn’t paying attention.”

  “He didn’t even talk to her—he doesn’t—” the jerk protested.

  Dragging him away, the bouncer said in an annoyed voice, “Master Z not only owns this place, asshole, but he always knows what subs want. Always.”

  Jessica shivered. The man had called her a sub; that would be the term then for the one being bossed around. Why was she thinking about terminology now? She managed to inhale, start breathing again. He called her a sub. There was no way that she was a sub. God, she needed to go home.

  Master Z chuckled. “Rough day, huh?” He wrapped his arms around her, holding her firmly. His hand pressed her head into the hollow of his shoulder. Comforting. Safe.

  She gave a half laugh and a shudder. “He was going to wh-whip me. And no one would have realized…” She evened her voice. “Thank you.”

  “My pleasure.” He just stood there, holding her, letting people flow around them like water around a boulder. Unconcerned. Nothing seemed to bother this man.

  “How did you know I didn’t want that? Wasn’t just…playing or something? You don’t really…know—”

  “I know, kitten.” His voice rumbled through his chest as he stroked her hair. His appealing scent—light citrus mingling with a man’s unique musk—made her want to burrow closer.

  But she couldn’t get much closer; she was plastered against him like wallpaper. Her breasts were mashed against his hard chest, her hips cradled against his. He felt good against her. Too good, and hadn’t she wanted to keep her distance from him?

  His other hand was low on her back in the hollow above her buttocks. And she wasn’t going all stiff at being touched. But he’d had his hands on her already, she realized, flushing as she remembered how he’d dried between her legs. She hadn’t even known his name.

  She still didn’t know his name. She pushed herself back and looked up.

  With the light behind him, his eyes were almost black as he studied her. His lips curved and a crease appeared in his cheek. “You need a drink and a chance to catch your breath.” He released her from his arms and held out a hand. “Come.”

  Should she? She considered her options. Go with him or try to walk back through the bar on unsteady legs, getting hit on every few seconds. Well, that was easy. She put her hand in his.

  Still smiling, he led her to the bar. “This time you may choose your drink.”

  She hesitated. Water or alcohol? Water would be smart, but a drink would definitely help the shakes. And somehow the fear had burned off any alcohol from before. “A margarita. Thank you.”

  “Cullen,” Master Z said, his voice somehow carrying past all the conversations, maybe because it was so deep. The bartender glanced over.

  “A margarita, please.”

  Ignoring the other people waiting, the bartender made her drink and set it in front of her. He smiled at her escort. “Definitely a pretty pet, Master Z.”

  “I’m no pet.” Jessica scowled. “What kind of derogatory term is that, anyway?” She tried to slide onto the bar stool but couldn’t quite manage. Wobbly legs, short—why couldn’t her parents have been tall? Then she wouldn’t look so much like a dumpling with feet.

  Sir grasped her around the waist and set her on the seat, taking her breath away with his effortless strength and the feel of his muscular hands through the thin fabric she wore.

  “Not derogatory,” he said, standing close enough that their hips brushed. “It’s an affectionate word for a sub.”

  “But I’m not a sub. I’m not into that at all. I hated what that man wanted to
do. Being whipped… Just the thought makes me sick.”

  He tucked a strand of her hair behind her ear, his fingers leaving a tingle in their wake. “It’s a rare person who would enjoy being assaulted by a stranger.”

  “Huh.” The shakes were lessening, and her brain was starting to work again. “So a submissive person doesn’t just go belly-up when some guy orders her around?”

  He grinned, a flash of white teeth in a darkly tanned face. “Hardly. Just as with any relationship, a Dom/sub relationship has attraction”—he stroked a finger down her cheek and her breath stopped at the intense look in his eyes—“and trust.”

  Pulling her gaze from his took effort, but she managed. She wasn’t comfortable at all with the way her senses had woken up, as if he’d plugged her into an electrical current. Turning, she rested her elbows on the bar top and concentrated on her drink, trying to ignore the way her body felt, the way he affected her. Hmmm, her reaction was probably from him saving her. She’d read something about that. Okay, fine.

  Be cool, continue talking, girl. “What kind of trust?” His scent came to her again, appealingly male.

  He curled his hands around her bare upper arms and turned her toward him. With one hand, he tilted her chin up until his gaze trapped her. “The trust that your master knows what you need and will give you what you need, even when you aren’t always sure.”

  The words, the sheer certainty in his rich voice, sent heat stabbing through her, a wave of need so potent she quivered inside.

  As if he could see into her head, he smiled slowly and whispered, “The trust that lets a woman be tied down and spread open for her master’s use.”

  Her mouth dropped open as she took a hard breath, the image of herself naked, spread-eagled on a bed with him looking down at her was more erotic than anything she’d felt before.

  He cupped her cheek, leaned forward, his breath warm against her ear as he murmured, “And your reaction to that shows you are a submissive.”

  She jerked away from him, away from the heat growing inside her, and the awareness of his body so close to hers. “No way. I really am not.”

  Time to change the subject. She cleared her throat, her voice husky when she asked, “So, what’s your name, anyway? Does everyone call you Master Z?”

  He merely smiled at her and picked up the drink the bartender had left for him. His big hand engulfed the glass. When his lips touched the glass, his eyes met hers, and she could almost feel those lips closing over her mouth, over her breast… Jeez, Jessica, get a grip.

  He set the glass down, and then, as if he’d heard her thoughts, he took her face between his hands and brought his mouth down on hers. Her heart sped up, but it was the way he held her in place that sent hunger searing through her veins. His lips were firm, knowledgeable, teasing a response from her. A stinging nip made her open her mouth, and he plunged in, his tongue stroking hers.

  Everything inside her seemed to melt. A burn started between her legs, and her hands curled around his muscular forearms in an effort to keep herself upright.

  With a low laugh, he took her wrists and put her arms around his neck. Nudging her legs apart, he moved between them. Hand on her bottom, he slid her closer until her mound rubbed against his thick erection, the thin material no barrier at all. When she gasped at the pleasure surging through her, he simply took the kiss deeper, his grip implacable.

  By the time he pulled back, she was trembling all over; her hands dug into his wide shoulders so tightly her fingers ached. The room seemed to throb in time with her whole lower half.

  His eyes crinkled when she just looked at him, unable to speak. Cupping her cheek, he sucked on her lower lip, drawing it into his mouth, his tongue sliding across it. And when he released her, a wicked smile told her that he was thinking of putting his mouth elsewhere. Her nipples tightened into hard buds.

  “Master Z?” A different bouncer approached, his manner tentative. “Could you check this out? Just take a second?”

  Sir’s gaze kept Jessica pinned in place as his knuckles rubbed against her aching breasts. She managed to not moan, somehow, but she might as well have, considering the glint of laughter in his eyes.

  “I have to attend to something,” he murmured. “Will you be all right?”

  She huffed out a breath. “Oh, sure.”

  It was good—very good—that he had to leave her; in another minute, she’d have been willing to do anything he asked, and in this place, that could be really bad. She let out a shaky breath.

  His lips curved. “Don’t consider yourself safe yet, pet. I’ll be back soon.”

  Master Z—no, she wasn’t going to be calling him master anything out loud, no matter how well he kissed—glanced at the bouncer. “Show me.”

  Zachary followed Matthew, one of the dungeon monitors. Not bad timing, actually. She needed time to absorb what he’d said, time to grow tantalized by the thought of being taken. She was definitely attracted, not only to the idea of domination, but to him personally. When he’d spoken of taking her for his pleasure, he’d not only felt the flare of excitement in her mind, but heard the deep breath she’d taken, seen the increasing pulse in her neck. And her reaction to a simple kiss was so heated, he’d had to control himself to not lay her out on the bar top and bring her to a screaming orgasm right then.

  He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been so drawn to a woman. Just watching her walk through the room with her firm stride, her chin up, he’d felt the compulsion to take her, to have her for his own.

  An assertive woman. He wasn’t surprised that the sub, Joey, had assumed she was a Domme. From a distance, he would have assumed the same. But up close, when he touched her, she yielded completely, even when her reaction confused her.

  Everything about her appealed to him, from her lush little body to her logical mind…and the passion that kept breaking loose from her stringent control.

  And she was pushing his own control to the breaking point. So, let her wander some more. Think some more. All the choices needed to be hers, right up until she handed the right to him.

  Matthew stopped at one of the farther stations. A sub was tied down over a spanking bench. Her Dom had his cock shoved into her mouth, and she was crying, protesting.

  “One of the observers was worried,” the dungeon monitor said, “but the sub hasn’t used any safe word or gesture.”

  Zachary tilted his head, his eyes on the sobbing woman, letting her feelings slide into him. He grinned. “It’s part of the scene and her favorite activity. No worries.”

  Matthew clapped Zachary on the arm with a laugh. “Good enough. Damn, life is easier when you’re here, boss. Sorry if I interrupted something with that little newcomer.”

  Biting her lip, Jessica gazed after Sir. She’d been more turned on by kissing him than by having sex with someone else. How did he do that? Affect her like that? There was something about him…not just his words…even his walk was powerful. Controlled. Back in college, she’d been to a karate exhibition where some of the black belts had that aura, an unsettling mixture of danger and discipline. She wasn’t the only one who he affected, either. Club members moved out of his way; the women turned to watch after he passed.

  Just like her.

  And he’d called her little one. She frowned. If another man labeled her that, she’d cut him down to size, so why had her insides melted when Sir did it? Oh, she was in deep trouble here.

  After he disappeared into the crowd, she turned back to finish her drink. Trying to ignore the seductive music, she smiled at the two men who took seats beside her, exchanged introductions, and was soon in a heated conversation about tax laws.

  One of the men, Gabe, had a presence about him almost like Sir. His confidence and the commanding look in his eyes gave her a funny sinking feeling inside.

  The bartender’s gaze had that effect on her too, she realized, as Cullen wandered back to her area. He shook his head at Gabe. “Uh-uh. Z’s.”

  Gabe frowned.
“Now there’s a pity. Well, Jessica, if you ever find yourself fancy-free, I’d enjoy getting to know you better.”

  “I—” Unable to think of a proper rejoinder, Jessica nodded politely and watched Gabe walk away. She turned to Cullen. “What is this ‘Z’s’ stuff? He’s not my owner, dammit.”

  His grin flickered so quickly she almost didn’t see it. “No, love, he’s not. I just thought I’d save Gabe some effort. I’ve seen you with Master Z; Gabe doesn’t stand a chance.”

  Jessica glared and turned her back on him. Like she was so obvious.

  She wasn’t, was she?

  Of course not. Putting her chin up and Sir out of her mind, she smiled and opened conversations with the members around her. Strange conversations at times. One man had long chains fastened to his belt. In fishnet tops and latex shorts, two men, obviously gay—or would that be bi?—checked her out for a threesome. A woman, in skintight red latex and matching gloves to her elbows, owned a bookstore and was fun to talk with, but her heated gaze was disconcerting.

  When the woman moved away, Jessica glanced around the room. Her nerves had settled. She should continue exploring since her tame world sure didn’t include anything like this place. Why did she find some of this stuff so…arousing?

  Uncomfortable as the admission was, she needed an answer. She’d never been one to hide her head in the sand, after all.

  And this time she’d be prepared for jerks. She could also use Master Z’s name as a conjuring tool: Don’t mess with me or Master Z will make you disappear. Yeah, that might work.

  Grinning, she slid off the bar stool and set out. She received two more propositions in the first twenty feet; one man was worth a second look. He had that same confidence—strength—as Master Z and Gabe. But somehow, Sir made every man in the room seem weak, unfinished. She thought of the way he looked at her—all his attention on her, not on the music or other people or planning his evening or even his next sentence. To be the focus of that intensity was heady.

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