Club Shadowlands by Cherise Sinclair

  And then, of course, came the question she really didn’t want in her mind: What would it be like to have all that attention on her in bed?

  She blinked and refocused her own attention to the here and now, not in visualizing Sir with his clothes off, with his big hands wrapped around her wrists and his mouth…

  Argh. Stop. Look. Walk. At one of the well-lit stations, a person was tied on what must be that St. Andrew’s cross the jerk had mentioned. This time the shackled person was a male whose female boss was whipping him in horrible places. Completely appalled, Jessica stared for a moment, pulling her legs together in reaction. No, she didn’t want to watch this—no way. Hurrying past, she could only think, These people are crazy.

  She passed two women talking together on a couch. The woman in a black catsuit was telling the other, “Your safe word is banana. Can you remember—”

  And what would a safe word be?

  The farther she got from the entrance, the more the lighting changed, growing ominous. Ah, some of the flickering wall sconces had red-tinted bulbs.

  At the end of the room, open double doors led into a wide hallway. A lot of people were milling around in there, and the noises made Jessica’s stomach twist: screams, the sound of a whip, begging. Too intense. She wasn’t going down that hall.

  Not that she could escape all the uncomfortable sounds. As she headed toward the other side of the room, high-pitched screams rose above the hum of conversation. In a roped-off area, a burly man with tattooed arms was whipping a little brunette tied on a sawhorse-like table. The poor woman was shrieking, “Stop! Stop, please, stop!” He didn’t stop. People stood outside the ropes, not doing anything. Damn them.

  Fury seared through her like wildfire. Her sister had been beaten like that during her marriage; Jessica had suspected abuse, but hadn’t acted. She would this time.

  Coming up behind the man, she grabbed the whip out of his hand. “You perverted asshole, let her up, or I’ll show you what it feels like!”

  The man’s bulldog face flushed red, and he took one step forward, then stopped, hands closing into fists at his side. Turning to a spectator, he snapped out, “Fetch me a monitor.” Spinning back toward Jessica, he snatched at the whip.

  Jessica punched him right in the face, knocking him down, shocking herself. Aside from karate classes in college, she’d never hit anyone. But, hey, the punch had worked.

  The brief thrill disappeared as he slowly got to his feet. Very not good. Her mouth went dry. She backed up a step, her heart hammering against her ribs.

  His eyes glinted with rage; his hand rose as he stepped forward.

  “Stop.” Master Z’s compelling voice. The man halted, and Jessica sucked in a relieved breath. Everyone turned as Sir strode into the roped-off area. He glanced at her, then the man. “Explain, Master Smith.”

  “We were in the middle of a scene, and this crazy woman comes roaring out of the crowd, grabs my whip, and damned if she didn’t punch me.” The man rubbed his reddened chin, and his lips curved. “It’s almost funny, but still, she ruined our scene.”

  Master’s Z’s gaze turned to her, and she winced at the grim look in his eyes. “Jessica, explain.”

  “She was screaming and yelling, ‘Stop, stop,’ and he kept whipping her. No one did anything.” Feeling like a child called on the carpet, she held out the whip. “I took it away from him.”

  “What is your sub’s safe word?” Sir asked the bully.


  “Did she use it or the club safe word?”

  “Nah. She wasn’t anywhere close. We been together three years, and she’s only used it twice. I’m careful that way, Z.”

  “I know you are.” Master Z turned to her, his brows together in a frown. “Did you actually read any of the rules that you signed?”

  Jessica flushed, looked down. Oh God, she’d screwed up. Somehow. “Uh…no.”

  “I’m sorry for that. According to our rules, if you interrupt a scene, you get punished.”

  Chapter Four

  Her mouth dropped open. Punished? “But—”

  “A scene is planned in advance, Jessica, and much anticipated. Furthermore, each sub has what we call a safe word, a word to use if they get too frightened or the pain is greater than what they can stand. The safe word is never, never stop.”

  Jessica licked dry lips. “You’re saying she didn’t really want to quit? She—but look at her back; she’s all red.”

  The people outside the rope laughed.

  “If a stranger picked up a whip and struck you, yes, that would be abuse.” Master Z took the whip from her hand. “However, if someone is aroused, within the context of a sexual moment, then the pain can heighten her pleasure. These two enjoy this activity. Their enjoyment—and the scene they’d planned—has been destroyed by you.”

  Some people like being hurt. Okay, she’d seen that already. The club had rules—rules were good—and she’d screwed up big-time in this strange world. Time to apologize, extricate herself gracefully, and retreat.

  Sitting in the entry looked more and more attractive, and she was going there right now, Master Z or no Master Z.

  Now released, the whipped woman joined the bully. The tiny woman’s whole body trembled, and the man put an arm around her, incongruously tender, considering the way he’d wielded that whip.

  Jessica sucked in a breath and looked at her. “I’m very sorry. I thought you were being hurt, and well… Please forgive me.”

  Master Z raised his eyebrows at the man.

  “No, Z, I’m sorry. I can see she’s a pet of yours, and she didn’t do it on purpose, but she screwed up our scene.” He kissed the top of the woman’s head. “Ruined the night for us. We got club rules for this, and I want them enforced.”

  “It is within your rights, Master Smith, and normally, I would agree, but—”

  Jessica closed her eyes. She’d not only ream out any of her clients who signed a form without reading it, but she’d also tell them they deserved the consequences. Only a person with no character—no honor—would dodge responsibility for her own actions. Man up, Jessica. “I did it. I’ll take the punishment.”

  Master Z’s eyes warmed in approval. “Brave Jessica.” He squeezed her shoulder and then told Master Smith, “Here is my judgment. I will allow you to discipline under my control. Since she is a newcomer, the embarrassment alone will furnish the majority of the punishment. The pain intensity should not exceed a sting.”

  Master Smith frowned, and then his face cleared. “Guess that’ll do.”

  Sir motioned to a barmaid and pointed to the bench where the whipping had taken place. “Clean that, please.”

  After fetching a spray bottle and paper towels from a tiny wall shelf, the barmaid quickly wiped down the bench.

  What did he mean by pain? Jessica’s gaze went from the bench to Master Z. She was getting a really bad feeling about this. “You’re not going to whip me, are you?”

  Smiling slightly, he drew her closer, until her back pressed against his chest. “Not a whip,” he murmured into her ear.

  Despite her growing fear, she could feel the hardness of his body all along hers, and it sent a shiver of excitement through her.

  As he pulled Jessica’s lush body tighter against him, Zachary could feel her response in both her body and mind. Anxiety, yes. But also arousal. Of course, for a submissive—even a novice—the Shadowlands would be an erotic dreamland.

  And had turned into a nightmare for this sweet submissive. He should never have let her in here, and guilt carved at his gut like a dull knife. But he could make this easier for her, and perhaps even demonstrate how arousal could change the quality of pain.

  Keeping her pressed against him, he nuzzled her neck, breathing in her warm vanilla scent. She shivered.

  “You aren’t ready for a whip,” he whispered, his lips brushing her ear. “I doubt you would ever enjoy that intensity of pain.” At his words, he could feel how his touch and words sent
a sizzle of excitement through her to compete with her fear.

  He moved his hands up to cup her breasts. If she weren’t attracted to him, weren’t aroused, this would be questionable behavior, but her nipples pebbled under his touch. Ignoring the crowd accumulating behind them, he focused on raising the heat in her. Her breasts were soft and heavy, and she could undoubtedly feel the warmth of his hands through the thin top.

  She felt the heat of him through her shirt as his thumbs rubbed her nipples, sending blazing sensations searing through her body.

  “Stop it,” she hissed, squirming in his unyielding grasp. Her heart pounded with anxiety, yet she was all too aware of his hands on her, of how his larger body held her in place so easily. It was Sir who had her in his arms, Sir who made her feel safe, only there was no safety here.

  She looked over her shoulder. “Wh-what are you going to do?”

  “Kitten, if you find this too frightening or absolutely can’t continue, you can say, ‘red.’” He held her as easily as he would a puppy, his arms around her both comforting and terrifying.

  Red. Like a stoplight. She relaxed slightly.

  “Master Smith, could you lower the front several inches, please?” Sir said. “And bring the entire bench up another foot.” Even as he spoke, he teased her breasts, rolling the nipples, stroking the undersides.

  When he moved a hand down to press against her mound, a wave of pleasure rolled through her. She struggled, but she couldn’t move away from his attentions, and even her fear couldn’t suppress the sensations awakening in her. Or was her apprehension heightening them?

  The table was adjusted.

  “Jessica, bend over now,” Master Z said.

  Unable to help herself, she instinctively tightened her body to stay straight.

  He gave a huff of laughter, moved one arm down to cross at her hips and bent with his chest against her back, forcing her down on the table. “Shhh, pet. It will be all right.” Pulling her arms out to the side, he flattened her chest onto the bench.

  “I-I don’t—” Don’t know if I can do this. Her hands curled into fists.

  Sir straightened, and the loss of his warm body left her feeling abandoned. He moved beside her to arrange her breasts so they hung down on each side of the narrow bench top. At just his touch, more heat surged into her core.

  A second later, she realized that with the bench tilted head down, her bottom was sticking high in the air. Dread scraped cold fingernails down her spine. “Sir. I’m—I don’t know.”

  “Kitten,” His hand brushed over her flushed cheek, his touch smoothing away the nerves. “This will be quick, and then you’ll be done.” After a light stroke down her hair, he walked over to the wall.

  She twisted her head, trying to keep him in sight. Her breathing went ragged as she realized that the flickering lights on the wall had concealed what hung there. Canes and whips and paddles and crops. A whimper escaped.

  She could hear people laugh. Lots of people. Watching her. A shudder ran through her.

  Hands behind his back, Sir took his time contemplating the devices, and her anxiety grew with each interminable second that passed. No, not the whip. You promised. Please, not the horrible long, stiff cane.

  He picked up a round paddle the size of a person’s head. “This should fit the need.”

  A paddle. Surely that was better than the whip. Right?

  He touched her cheek gently. “Jessica, since you are new to this, I will make it easy. For this period of time, you have permission to scream, to cry, to swear and call names, to beg…even to stay silent. Remember that you can say ‘red’ and everything stops.”

  Give me permission to say something? When she glared at him, amusement lit his eyes.

  He disappeared behind her, and she couldn’t turn her head far enough to see him. The club members ranged around the roped-off area. Spectators at a live show. Rage grew inside her at them and maybe at Master Z, as well. When someone lifted her skirt, smiles appeared.

  Her teeth ground together, and an embarrassed flush seared her face. She had on no underwear; all of her butt was up and naked in the air where everyone could see.

  I can do this. She forced herself not to push up. Not to run.

  Sir’s voice. “Such a pretty little ass, don’t you think, Master Smith?”

  “Very nice.”

  To her dismay, Master Z didn’t start her punishment. Instead he massaged her buttocks. Although his hands were gentle, she could feel the hardness of his fingers and palms. Not a soft man. As he ran his fingers over her bared skin, his touch grew increasingly intimate. He slowly traced the creases between her cheeks and thighs.

  Her awareness filled with the bombarding sensations, the seductive assault. When his fingers stroked between her legs, sliding in the wetness there, need poured into her body like hot air through an opened window. Then he moved away, leaving her throbbing.

  “As the offended parties, please take three strokes apiece,” he said, his voice as courteous as if he’d been a fancy waiter.

  Oh God, he was going to let them hit her with that paddle. Jessica shook her head, and humiliation and fear eroded her determination to stay brave. Tears filled her eyes, turning Master Z into a blur as he sank to a crouch in front of her.

  “It will hurt less if you can relax.”


  “You can do this, pet. Hold onto me.” After prying open her fists, he curled warm fingers around hers. He nodded at someone and wham!

  Stinging pain burst into her right buttock, and she gasped.

  Wham! Wham! As pain seared her skin, she pulled at his restraining grip. Ow ow ow The need to yell grew. She clenched her jaw.

  And then it stopped.

  Trying not to cry, she rested her forehead on the leather.

  “Eyes on me, Jessica.” The deep timbre of his voice was as comforting as his grip on her hands.

  After a second, she rested her chin on the padded leather and looked at him.

  His steady gaze appraised her for a long moment before he said, “Can you hang in there for the last three?”

  No! Yet, the need to please him was compelling, and she jerked her head up far enough to nod.

  “Brave Jessica.”

  As his thumbs stroked circles over the backs of her hands, the strangest feelings trickled through her. She could still feel the intimacy of his touch between her legs.

  He looked over her shoulder at someone. “Go ahead.”

  She barely had time to tense.

  Wham. Just one buttock. Another blow on the other. Not as hard, but the burning built quickly into pain. One final smack across both cheeks brought tears to her eyes.

  “All done, kitten.”

  Done. Her bottom stung, but not horribly, so why did she feel like crying? “I’m s-sorry.” She hated the waver in her voice. “I didn’t mean to cause trouble; I didn’t.”

  His eyes gentled to a soft gray. “I know, little one.” He released her hands and rose, walking toward the end of the table out of her sight.

  She laid her cheek on the leather, trying not to whimper. No more, please, please, please.

  Something touched her bottom, and she cried out more in fear than pain.

  “Pink and tender, but no need for salve.” Sir’s hands caressed her bottom, painful and yet almost exciting. The feeling of need edged back. “Punishment’s over.”

  A few people in the crowd groaned in disappointment, but stopped suddenly as if their complaints had been cut off.

  Master Z grasped her around the waist, lifted her to her feet, and held her steady until she found her balance.

  It hadn’t been that bad, so why were her insides shaking harder than her legs? She wiped her face off roughly.

  “This time, deliver your apology on your knees, Jessica,” Sir instructed.

  Only his hand under her arm kept her from falling over as she clumsily knelt. She looked up at Master Smith and his slave. “I’m so, so sorry I interrupted. And that
I didn’t read the rules.” Her voice quivered. What if it wasn’t good enough? What if—

  Master Smith snorted a laugh. “Sounds repentant to me, Z. Apology accepted.”

  “Are you satisfied, Wendy?” Master Z asked.

  The short brunette nodded. “Yes, Sir.” Her eyes met Jessica’s with a hint of sympathy.

  Jessica let her head drop forward in relief. It was over. And yet, another tear slid down her cheek. Not from pain, though her bottom still burned. But, as emptiness hollowed her chest, filling her with coldness, she had to hold in sobs. I want to go home.

  And then Sir bent and effortlessly lifted her into his arms.

  “No! Leave me alone.”

  “Shhh,” he murmured.

  As he drew her closer, pressed a kiss to the top of her head, the chill receded.

  Zachary found an empty couch in the middle of the floor and settled into it, keeping Jessica firmly in his arms. Guilt was a hard lump in his guts. Never had a kind gesture gone so wrong. He should have made her stay out in the cold entry with Ben, should never have let her into the club.

  Dammit, there’d been no time to arouse her enough to turn the pain to pleasure. Worse, a bare-bottom paddling could raise send a person back to painful memories of punishments received as a child.

  He gentled his arms around her, settling her head against his chest. “All finished, little one.”

  She buried her head in his shoulder, choking back sobs in a way that broke his heart. He could feel her trying to wall up her distress, but between Dom and sub, there should be no walls. She didn’t know that yet and wouldn’t for a time, even if she wanted to walk this path.

  True, she wasn’t his sub, but he’d acted as her Dom for the punishment. Aftercare was his responsibility. This was where he would start.

  He shifted her in his arms so he could tilt her head up and look into her eyes. “I have you, Jessica,” he said quietly. “Let it out.”

  Her emerald eyes blinked at him in surprise. Had no one ever let her cry? As her tears welled anew, she shuddered with muffled sobs. Her choked words drifted to him. “In front of people… It hurt… Nobody ever…” Her barriers fell, and she cried openly, shaking as hard as when she’d been chilled from the rain.

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