When she’d gone to the local police with her suspicions, they’d turned a blind eye and run her off with the usual assurances that they kept a close eye on their community. But they didn’t see patterns like she did. They hadn’t read thousands of articles about crimes and noticed what she did. Somewhere inside this club, a man’s life was hanging by a thread and she would save him and get the story of the century.
“Cuffs please.” A heavily muscled man reached for her wrists as she approached the door that led deeper into the club. He wore an expensive suit with a red armband on his bicep, but his sheer brawny power was actually accented, rather than hidden, by his attire. It surprised her. She’d expected men to be running around in black leather and women fully naked, surrounded by chains, whips, and the whole shebang.
The man looked at her wrists, then up at her face. “You know the safe word, little sub?”
“Good girl. Go on in and have a good time.” The man’s mouth broke into a wide smile, but it vanished just as quickly. She smiled back, and bowed her head slightly in a nod as she passed by him.
She moved through the open door into another world. Instead of a dungeon with walls fitted with iron chains, Sophie found the Gilded Cuff was the opposite of what she’d anticipated.
Music and darkness ruled the landscape of the club, engulfing her senses. She halted abruptly, her heart skittering in a brief flare of panic at not being able to see anything around her.
The dungeons and screams she’d expected weren’t there. Was this typical for a BDSM atmosphere? Her initial research had clearly led her astray. It wasn’t like her to be unprepared and The Gilded Cuff certainly surprised her. Every scenario she’d planned for in her head now seemed silly and ineffective. This place and these people weren’t anything like what’d she’d imagined they would be and that frightened her more than the cuffs did. Being unprepared could get you killed. It was a lesson she’d learned the hard way and she had the scars to prove it. The club’s rule pamphlet the woman at the desk had given her was still in her hands and a slight layer of sweat marked the glossy paper’s surface.
I probably should have glanced at it. What if I break a rule by accident?
The last thing she needed to do was end up in trouble or worse, get kicked out and not have a chance to do what she’d come to do. It might be her only chance to save the man who’d become her obsession.
Sophie made her way through an expansive room bordered with rope-tied crimson velvet drapes that kept prying eyes away from the large beds beyond them when the curtains were untied. Only the sounds coming from behind the draperies hinted at what was happening there. Her body reacted to the sounds, and she became aroused despite her intention to remain aloof. Around here, people lounged on gothic-style, brocade-upholstered couches. Old portraits hung along the walls, imperious images of beautiful men and women from ages past watching coldly from their frames. Sophie had the feeling that she’d stepped into another time and place entirely removed from the cozy streets of the small town of Weston, on the north shore of Long Island.
The slow pulse of a bass beat and a singer’s husky crooning wrapped around Sophie like an erotic blanket. As if she were in a dark dream, moving shadows and music filled her, and she breathed deeply, teased by hints of sex and expensive perfume. Awareness of the world outside wavered, rippling in her mind like a mirage. Someone bumped into her from behind, trying to pass by her to go deeper into the club. The sudden movement jerked her back to herself and out of the club’s dark spell.
“Sorry!” she gasped and stepped out of the way.
As her eyes adjusted to the dim light, bodies manifested in twisting shapes. The sounds of sexual exploration were an odd compliment to the song being played. A heavy blush flooded Sophie’s cheeks, heating her entire face. Her own sexual experiences had been awkward and brief. The memories of those nights were unwanted, uncomfortable, and passionless. Merely reliving them in her mind made her feel like a stranger in her own skin. She raised her chin and focused on her goal again.
The cuffs on her wrists made her feel vulnerable. At any moment a dom could come and clip her wrists together and haul her into a dark corner to show her true passion at his hands. The idea made her body hum to life in a way she hadn’t thought possible. Every cell in her seemed to yearn now toward an encounter with a stranger in this place of sins and secrets. She trailed her fingertips over the backs of velveteen couches and the slightly rough texture of the fabric made her wonder how it would feel against her bare skin as she was stretched out beneath a hard masculine body.
The oppressive sensual darkness that slithered around the edges of her own control was too much. There was a low-lit lamp not too far away, and Sophie headed for it, drawn by the promise of its comfort. Light was safe; you could see what was happening. It was the dark that set her on edge. If she couldn’t see what was going on around her, she was vulnerable. There was barely enough light for her to see where she was headed. She needed to calm down, regain her composure and remind herself why she was here.
Her heart trampled a wild beat against her ribs as she realized it would be so easy for any one of the strong, muscular doms in the club to slide a hand inside her bodice and discover the thing she’d hidden there, an object that had become precious to her over the last few years.
Her hand came to rest on the copy of an old photograph. She knew taking it out would be a risk, but she couldn’t fight the need to steal the quick glance the dim light would allow her.
Unfolding the picture gently, her lips pursed as she studied the face of the eight-year-old boy in the picture. This was the childhood photo of the man she’d come to meet tonight.
The black and white photo had been on the front page of the New York Times twenty-five years ago. The boy was dressed in rags, and bruises marred his angelic face; his haunted eyes gazed at the camera. A bloody cut traced the line of his jaw from chin to neck. Eyes wide, he clasped a thick woolen blanket to his body as a policeman held out a hand to him.
Emery Lockwood. The sole survivor of the most notorious child abduction in American history since that of the Lindbergh baby. And he was somewhere in the Gilded Cuff tonight.
Over the last year she’d become obsessed with the photo and had taken to looking at it when she needed reassurance. Its subject had been kidnapped but survived and escaped, when so many children like him over the years had not been so lucky. Sophie’s throat constricted, and shards of invisible glass dug into her throat as she tried to shrug off her own awful memories. Her best friend Rachel, the playground, that man with the gray van…