The photo was creased in places and its edges were worn. The defiance in Emery’s face compelled her in a way nothing else in her life had. Compelled with an intensity that scared her. She had to see him, had to talk to him and understand him and the tragedy he’d survived. She was afraid he might be the target of another attempt on his life and she had to warn him. It wouldn’t be fair for him to die, not after everything he’d survived. She had to help him. But it wasn’t just that. It was the only way she could ease the guilt she’d felt at not being able to help catch the man who’d taken her friend. She had to talk to Emery. Even though she knew it wouldn’t bring Rachel back, something inside her felt like meeting him would bring closure.
With a forced shrug of her shoulders, she relaxed and focused on Emery’s face. After years of studying kidnapping cases she’d noticed something crucial in a certain style of kidnappings, a tendency by the predators to repeat patterns of behavior. When she’d started digging through Emery’s case and read the hundreds of articles and police reports, she’d sensed it. That prickling sensation at the back of her mind that warned her that what had been started twenty-five years ago wasn’t over yet. She hadn’t been able to save Rachel, but she would save Emery.
I have to. She owed it to Rachel, owed it to herself and to everyone who’d lost someone to the darkness, to evil. Guilt stained her deep inside but when she saw Emery’s face in that photograph, it reminded her that not every stolen child died. A part of her, one she knowingly buried in her heart, was convinced that talking to him, hearing his story, would ease the old wounds from her own past that never seemed to heal. And in return, she might be the one to solve his kidnapping and rescue him from a threat she was convinced still existed.
She wasn’t the boldest woman—at least not naturally—but the quest for truth always gave her that added level of bravery. Sometimes she felt, when in the grips of pursuing a story, that she became the person she ought to be, someone brave enough to fight the evil in the world. Not the tortured girl from Kansas who’d lost her best friend to a pedophile when she was seven years old.
Sophie would have preferred to conduct an interview somewhere less intimate, preferably wearing more clothing. But Emery was nearly impossible to reach—he avoided the press, apparently despising their efforts to get him to tell his story. She didn’t blame him. Retelling his story could be traumatic for him, but she didn’t have a choice. If what she suspected was true, she needed the details she was sure he’d kept from the police because they might be the keys to figuring out who’d kidnapped him and why.
She’d made calls to his company, but the front desk there had refused to transfer her to his line, probably because of his “no press” rule. Thanks to Hayden she knew Emery rarely left the Lockwood estate but he came to the Gilded Cuff a few times a month. This was the only opportunity she might have to reach him.
Emery ran his father’s company from a vast mansion on the Lockwood estate, nestled in the thick woods of Long Island’s Gold Coast. No visitors were permitted and he left the house only when in the company of private guards.
Sophie tucked the photo back into her corset and looked around, peering at the faces of the doms walking past her. More than once their gazes dropped to the cuffs on her wrists, possessively assessing her body. Her face scorched with an irremovable blush at their perusal. Whenever she made eye contact with a dom, he would frown and she’d instantly drop her gaze.
Respect; must remember to respect the doms and not make eye contact unless they command it. Otherwise she might end up bent over a spanking bench. Her corset seemed to shrink, making it hard to breathe, and heat flashed from her head to her toes.
Men and women—submissives judging by the cuffs they bore on their wrists—were wearing even less than she was as they walked around with drink trays, carrying glasses to doms on couches. Several doms had subs kneeling at their feet, heads bowed. A man sitting on a nearby love seat was watching her with hooded eyes. He had a sub at his feet, his hand stroking her long blond hair. The woman’s eyes were half closed, cheeks flushed with pleasure. The dom’s cobalt blue eyes measured her—not with sexual interest, but seemingly with mere curiosity—the way a sated mountain lion might watch a plump rabbit crossing its path.
Sophie pulled her eyes away from the redheaded dom and his ensnaring gaze. The club was almost too much to take in. Collars, leashes, the occasional pole with chains hanging from it, and a giant cross were all there, part of the fantasy world created amid the glitz and old world décor.
Sliding past entwined bodies and expensive furniture, she saw more that intrigued her. The club itself was this one large room with several halls splitting off the main room. Hayden had explained earlier that morning the layout of the club. She had pointed out that no matter which hall you went down you had to come back to the main room to exit the club. A handy safety feature. A little exhalation of relief escaped her lips. How deep did a man like Emery Lockwood live this lifestyle? Would she find him in one of the private rooms or would he be part of a public scene like the ones she was witnessing now?
She was nearly halfway across the room when a man caught her by her arm and spun her to face him. Her lips parted, ready to scream the word “red”, but when she met his gaze she froze, the shout dying at the back of her throat. He raised her wrists, fingering the red ribbon around her leather cuffs. His gray eyes were as silver as moonlight, and openly interested. Sophie tried to jerk free of his hold. He held tight. The arousal that had been slowly building in her body flashed cold and sharp. She could use the safe word. She knew that. But after one deep breath, she forced herself to relax. Part of the job tonight was to blend in, to find Emery. She couldn’t do that if she ran off and cried for help at the first contact. It would be smarter to let this play out a bit; maybe she could squeeze the dom for information about Emery later if she didn’t find him soon. For Sophie, not being able to get to Emery was more frightening than anything this man might try to do to her.
“I see your cuffs, little sub. I’m not going to hurt you.”
His russet hair fell across his eyes and he flicked his head: power, possession, dominance. He was raw masculinity. A natural dom. He was the sort of good-looking man that she would have mooned over when she was a teenager. Hell, even now at twenty-four she should have been melting into a puddle at this man’s feet. His gaze bit into her. A stab of sudden apprehension made her stomach pitch, but she needed to find Emery and going along with this guy might be the best way to get information. He tugged her wrists, jerking her body against his as he regarded her hungrily. “I need an unclaimed sub for a contest. Tonight is your lucky night, sweetheart.”