“I have an appointment with Ivan Drake…”
Andie followed the gorgeous woman she’d decided to call Brunhilda in her head down a dimly lit corridor to what looked like a bar or private club of some sort. The statuesque blond was a walking advertisement for corsets, leather pencil skirts, and mile high stilettos. She gave her faded peasant skirt a little shake. A puff of white flew off. Sheesh, she probably smelled like a cupcake.
“Mr. Drake is on the phone, you can wait at the bar. He shouldn’t be long, and we’ll send someone to escort you to one of the private screening rooms.”
She was going to ask just what a “private screening room” was, but the woman led her through a pair of swinging doors and her mouth dropped open….
What. The. Fuck.
Shitshitshit, HOLY shit! The place was dark, lit by dim sconces along the walls, but there was enough light to make out two things. One – she was not dressed appropriately. Two – this was not your mama’s club, not unless mama was into some really freaky shit.
Andie didn’t know where not to look first. Men in leather pants and vests, women in tiny leather skirts and bustiers that barely covered the essentials, and those were the over-dressed ones. Some of them were in nothing but teeny-weenie leather thongs and ouch, that had to chafe. They also wore chokers or maybe collars would be a more appropriate word. She wasn’t a complete idiot. This was some Kink/BDSM club, right here in the middle of Alexandria, Virginia. Well, Lordy, Lordy, who would have guessed. She didn’t know whether to poke her eyes out or run from the place screaming. She settled for standing there with her mouth hanging open.
“Are you alright?” She turned to Brunhilda. Was she alright? Well, uh… maybe if she asked her once the shock wore off. Say… in about a week or two. Possibly a month… or six. Next year… .she should ask next year. Yep, that ought to do it.
“Hey,” she blinked at the woman, her face had lost its severe lines and compassion lit her eyes, “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do.”
Oh hell, why did Hildie think she was here, “I’m just here for the interview.” the words tripped over each other in her rush to get them out.
“Yes, that’s right, and you can leave at any time. Come on, I’ll introduce you to Maurice.”
Hildie smiled. It transformed her face. She looked almost not terrifying,“The bar-tender, makes a wicked margarita.”
Andie’s eyes skittered over the dimly lit room, trying to find somewhere to look that wouldn’t make her wish for a gallon jug of Purrell. Call her old fashioned, but some things should just be done in private. Like what that man in the corner was doing to that girl in the thong, and that threesome over against the wall, and oh, how was that even anatomically possible.
Margarita? Oh, hell yes. She didn’t normally drink, but there was nothing normal about this. Following Brunhilda to the bar, Andie comforted herself with the knowledge that Ted’s comb-over was, in fact long enough, so that after she ripped it off his sweaty, soon to be bald head, she could wrap it around his pudgy, soon to be strangled neck….and yank.
Ivan Drake sat at the sleek glass and chrome desk in the screening room, his eyes on the monitor showing him live video feed of the bar. Being a silent partner in the club, he’d designed the room himself. From the silk wall covering in graphite to the rich sleek leather furnishings to the panel that slid aside to reveal a St Andrew’s Cross, he’d seen to every detail with meticulous care, assuring that it suited his needs perfectly, a seamless combination of form and function. One of those functions was to observe a potential submissive without having to step into the club itself.
“She’s nervous.” Madame Scarlet spoke from the doorway.
Drake didn’t bother to look up from the monitor, his attention focused on the girl he was here to interview. So far, all he’d been able to make out was a mass of copper hair in a sloppy ponytail, a long, pea-soup green, belted sweater and a multi-colored skirt. Shit, it couldn’t be. He zoomed in and confirmed it, tie-dye. Dear God! He’d instructed her to wear normal street clothes as he didn’t care for all the skimpy leather but hell, if this was how she normally dressed, he’d be calling Neiman’s tonight. He moved the mouse to zoom in on her face. Due to the angle, he could only make out her profile. A smooth pale cheek, delicate jaw, and long graceful fingers that had a white knuckle grip on what looked like a margarita. He frowned, “She shouldn’t be drinking.” The interview was intense, he didn’t want her muddled.
“Maurice made it weak, but like I said, she’s nervous.” Drake turned to face the woman who’d aided him in obtaining his submissives for the last five years. Something in her voice made him cautious. “How nervous?”
“Terrified.” she replied immediately, “If I didn’t know better, I’d swear she’d never seen a leather collar before. Honestly, I thought she was going to bolt.”
“According to the file you provided, she’s been doing this for two years.” Drake looked down at the file containing the Mandy Tinsley’s application and the signed NDA, along with one grainy, slightly out of focus picture. The only obvious difference was the hair. It was highlighted in the photo, very blond. He much preferred what he knew had to be her natural color, that burnished copper couldn’t be found in a bottle.
“Yes,” Scarlet’s confirmation brought his back head up, “And she’s never been to this particular club. She just relocated here from Boston. The club she was a member of didn’t operate like this one.” a brief smile, “No public displays, so to speak. That could account for it.”
Drake snorted, “Yes, seeing all that for the first time would be unnerving.”
He turned back to the monitor, the girl wouldn’t have to worry about public displays as his submissive. In fact, he quite liked the idea that it made her uncomfortable, because no way in hell would anybody else be be getting a look at what was his alone. This was the one and only time she’d darken the club’s doors. He wasn’t crazy about having to interview her here, but for security reasons, it was necessary.
“Anything else I should know?”
He heard nothing for almost a full minute, then “I like her.”
His head snapped around. That was a strange statement, “What?”
The woman shrugged, “I like her, she’s a good kid…” she was interrupted by the beep of the communicator in her ear, she held up a finger and turned away, “What.. say that again…..”
The sudden tension in her voice, pulled his eyes from the screen, “Dammit, yes yes, I’m on the way.”
She turned back to Drake, her face tight, “We have a problem that needs my immediate attention. I’ll have Stan bring her back.
“What’s going on?” The last thing he wanted to deal with was more aggravation. He’d been up to his neck in it the last twenty-four hours.
Abbot, his supremely efficient administrative assistant, proved he was only human by falling to the early flu epidemic that was sweeping through the city. And after being subject to Jennifer’s stuttering and batting eyelashes all afternoon. He had no patience left.
“There’s a private investigator demanding to talk to the manager,” He understood Scarlet’s easy manner was an attempt to make the disturbing news more palatable. It didn’t.
“Shit, what the hell?”
“Stan and Maurice know her, I’m to see to her needs.”
Stan and Maurice owned the club. He’d known them half his life, as much as he trusted anyone, which wasn’t much. He trusted them, “Fine.”
“I’ll have Roger bring Miss Tinsley back.”
“Have Stan do it.” He didn’t want anyone else near her. Hell, he didn’t want Stan near her, but someone had to look after her. She was already garnering far too much attention from the other Doms. Maurice was doing an excellent job of shooting them all warning glares, but he didn’t like all those greedy eyes on her. He wanted Mandy Tinsley out of there…now.
What the holy-sam-hill was going on? Now that the initial shock had worn off, Andie sat on her bar-stool and ran over everything in her mind hoping something would make sense, but no matter how she looked at it, the whole thing was just plain weird. Why would Mr. Billionaire want to be interviewed here. It made no sense, unless he was planning to give Ted the story of the century, and that she couldn’t see happening. Admittedly, she knew very little of the man. Up until four days ago she’d never heard of him, then he’d rescued a boy gone missing. The news on the incident was sketchy, as neither the mother nor Drake was talking, but according to the snatches she’d picked up, the mother and father separated, the mother was awarded custody, and the father took the child. Merrick Drake had intervened somehow, and returned the child almost before the mother had known he was missing. And now he wanted the world to know he wore leather and liked kinky sex?
She’d tried to call her Landlord Editor and Chief, but the reception in here was awful. So she decided to look at her situation as a learning experience, like a field trip…. a kinky, BDSM infested field trip, which would conclude with a stop at the nearest drug store for a case of Dial anti-bacterial-kill-everything-it-touches-soap. She could handle this, she could, as long as she didn’t look up. So she studied the napkin on the counter and sipped the margarita, Maurice, the giant bartender with the bald head, numerous tats, and a surprisingly sweet smile, had handed her with a wink, “Sip on this, Kiddo. You’ll be outta’ here before you know it.”
She hoped so. Her non-leather wearing self stuck out. She could feel eyes on her. Lots of them. So she kept her own eyes on her drink, and concentrated on the numerous ways she could murder Ted Lewis.
“You look like you’d rather be anywhere but here.”
A nasal voice interrupted the immensely satisfying fantasy of beating Ted to death with his own tape recorder. Reluctantly, she turned from her margarita and faced the man who’d wiggled in beside her. The bar was crowded, so it was a tight squeeze. Thankfully he wasn’t one of the thong wearers. He wore a white shirt and leather pants and could have been called handsome with his blond hair and blue eyed good looks, but there was something oily about him that instantly made her skin crawl.
“I’m meeting someone.” she tried for coolly polite.
“Well, I’d say you’ve met someone.” He grinned, leaning close. She got a whiff of overly strong cologne. She sneezed once, and sneezed again…and again, her eyes watering. Suddenly, Maurice was back. “Hey, kiddo,” a box of tissues appeared in front of her, “You okay?”
Andie nodded between sneezes and pulled a tissue from the box, Au de” freshener of the bathroom made her allergic. She blew her nose, loudly. Maybe her display would discourage tall, blonde and stinky.
“Hey,” a hand grabbed her upper arm, attempting to pull her from her stool.
Aaaand maybe not.
“Come on outside, the fresh air…..”
“Unhand the lady.” Andie gave Maurice a grateful smile, not that he noticed. He was too busy giving the guy beside her a look she didn’t ever want to be on the receiving end of.
“This is none of your business…” Blond and Stinky squeezed her tighter.
“Mister, everything that goes on in this club is my business,” Maurice leaned in close. Wow, Sweet Smiling Maurice had left the building and Scary As Shit Maurice had taken his place. “You either remove your hand and move along, or I’ll come over this bar and remove it for you,” Maurice shrugged one muscle-bound shoulder, his narrowed eyes and granite hard expression at odds with his casual tone “Course, if that happens, you won’t be able to use it for a while with the broken fingers and all.”
Blond and oily dropped her arm. “Shit, fine, just tryin’ to make friends.”
“Never seen you before…” Maurice started, but he was talking to empty space. Stinky had already tucked tail and run, disappearing into the throng of leather.
Blowing her nose once more, she took a deep breath of not piney-stinky air, “Thanks.”
Maurice smiled, “No problem, sweet-stuff.” then looking over her shoulder, “And here’s Stan, he’ll take you back.”
Andie turned and looked up….and up some more. Wow, and she thought Maurice was big. Stan was a giant…..giant, “Uh, okay…”
“Everything alright, here.” Stan traded a look with Maurice. One of those Alpha male, do-I-need-to- beat-somebody-to-a-bloody-pulp looks. She’d never seen one before, but she’d read about them.
“Don’t know yet, never seen that guy before and he touched without permission.”
She didn’t think Stan could look any more scary. She was wrong, “Notify security.”
She wasn’t sure what was going on, the guy was creepy but, “He didn’t hurt me.”
Stan smiled down at her, and wow, he was a very good looking giant. With his sandy blond hair, hazel eyes, and naturally tanned skin, he looked like he should be on a beach with a surf board instead of wearing leather in a kink club, “We have very strict rules about touching. No one touches you unless you give them prior permission. I’m assuming you didn’t.”
“No,” She shook her head, “I was too busy sneezing my head off because of his stinky cologne.”
Stan’s smile got bigger, warmer…and something else, something that made a blush creep up her neck.
“Another reason to give him a talking to.” Stan’s eyes followed her flaming blush, “Stinky cologne that makes pretty girls sneeze, is definitely not allowed.”
Oh, well right, okay then… Andie looked away from the unmistakeable heat in his eyes and took a nervous sip of her drink. She heard a low curse. Then Stan mumbled something she didn’t quite catch, but she thought she made out the words Drake, lucky, and son of a bitch.
He took her by the elbow with a raised brow. A question, she realized, nodding her assent. They were serious about that permission thing, “Come on sweetheart, let me get you out of here before you start a riot.”
“What?” Her eyes flew to his as she got up from the stool.
His smile this time was less heat and more reassuring, “Nothin’, bring your margarita and come on. Drake’s waiting.” This time she definitely heard, “Lucky bastard.”
Andie didn’t know whether to be flattered or insulted. Confusion won out. She allowed Stan to lead her through the bar and tried not to look anywhere but straight ahead, not wanting to accumulate any more images she’d desperately wish out of her head. They seemed to be headed for a doorway in the back. Nervous tension skittered up her spine. As much as she wanted to get out of here, she balked at being alone in this place with someone she didn’t know.
“We have security cameras everywhere,” Stan spoke up, seeming to read her mind, “you’re never alone, and I’ll be right outside…”
“Shit, fucking hell! Get out of the damn way.”
They both turned at the cursing coming from the far left side of the crowd. Andie couldn’t see anything at first, but then she heard several simultaneous grunts of pain and the the thong of leather magically parted to reveal a tiny woman weaving through the crowd, “Kinky morons, you’re gonna cost me twenty grand. Shit, you want something done right…”
Andie got a better look the closer she got. Short hair gleaming blue-black under the lights, she was dressed in head to toe leather and should have blended in, but she didn’t. For one thing, unlike every other woman, she was in leather pants, not a short skirt and for the other, she couldn’t put her finger on it, but for some reason the words ‘bad-ass bitch’ flitted across her mind.
The fierce woman walked right up to her. Vivid, icy, aqua eyes met hers briefly before locking on the drink in her hand, “Margarita?”
“I’ll give you a hundred bucks, for it.”
“Lena, what the …” Stan’s voice held a warning.
“Shut up Stan, nobody’s talkin’ to you.” Bad-ass bitch didn’t even look Stan’s way.
“Here, you can have it.” feeling Stan stiffen beside her and wanting to avoid possible bloodshed, she handed over the drink.
“Thanks,” the girls lips formed a grim smile, “Some days you just gotta have one.” then she was gone.
“Should I even ask….” Andie turned back to Stan.
He was scratching his head, “You could, but honestly, I don’t know what I’d tell you.”
“Okay, then I won’t,” she smiled up at him, deciding she liked Stan. As unbelievable as it seemed, she knew she was safe with him.
“Right,” Stan’s eyes roved over her face again. Then shaking his head, he began leading her forward once more, “Well Drake’s waiting, not something he enjoys from what I understand so..”
“Lead the way…” Andie felt her legs wobble, and decided it was best she got rid of the drink. She had a feeling she was going to need her wits about her.