I’ve planned this night for weeks, down to the last detail. I want it to be perfect. Bringing someone new into my private life is not something I do lightly, having learned the hard way over the years that celebrity has a dark downside that I go out of my way to avoid whenever possible. But Rafe is different. We’ve been together for months now, and I feel ready to take this next step with him. In the dungeon that’s accessible only to Quantum partners and our guests, I take a careful look at the items I’ve set out—a blindfold, a flogger, the smallest plug, a bottle of lubricant and a cock ring. I’m starting him off easy until I can get a sense of whether he shares my appreciation for the lifestyle.
I have a feeling he will, if our “vanilla” sex life is anything to go by. He’s endlessly creative and sensual in bed. When he whispers to me in French, I can nearly come from that alone. It’s been a very long time since anything vanilla appealed to me, but then again, the lifestyle hasn’t been doing it for me lately either. While I’m satisfied by the sex I have with Rafe, I feel like it could be “more,” and thus the reason I’m trying to add a little spice to an already satisfying relationship.
Before I met Rafe, I had confessed to my closest friends and business partners that I was feeling out of sorts and off-kilter. Spending time at the clubs we own here in LA and in New York City had become boring, especially since my buddies found love and more or less gave up the clubs. Getting naked in public lost its luster for each of them after they found “the one.” In our world, we’re always one tabloid photo away from disaster, so I get that they feel the need to protect their significant others from that kind of exposure.
We go to enormous lengths to protect the members of our clubs, including the requirement of a one-million-dollar entrance fee for new members and airtight nondisclosure agreements. But that didn’t stop someone in Devon Black’s equally exclusive club from taking photos of our partner Jasper Autry that were later used to blackmail him. We’re all a little gun-shy after that episode.
Rafe understands the celebrity culture because he works in our industry. As an executive for the company that distributes Quantum films—and many others—in France, he travels frequently between Paris and Los Angeles, hobnobbing with celebrities and working deep inside the business. From the beginning, I’ve felt comfortable being myself around him, because he understands the pressures I face. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt this way about a guy, and even though I can tell my friends don’t love him, I do, and that’s all that matters.
Or so I tell myself.
Truth is, their opinions matter to me, even if I wish they didn’t.
Especially Flynn and Hayden, who have been my closest friends for years. It’s so rare for me to be out of sync with either of them, let alone both, but from the outset, they’ve been rather obvious in their dislike of Rafe. I wish I knew why, but they won’t even give him a chance. Flynn’s wife, Natalie, and I talked about it over the holidays when we were all together for four memorable days in St. George, Utah, of all places.
As I light the candles in the dungeon, I think about that conversation as I have so many times since then.
“It’s not that he doesn’t like Rafe,” Natalie had said. “It’s more that he doesn’t like him for you.”
“Why?” I’d asked and immediately hated myself for the question as well as the desperate-sounding tone in which it was asked. I’m Marlowe fucking Sloane. What do I care if Flynn Godfrey or anyone else doesn’t like my boyfriend? Except… I care, and I hate that I care.
I could tell Nat chose her words carefully. “It’s just that he thinks you can do…better.” She cringed as she said that last word, and I realized I’d put her in a terrible position by bringing it up at all. The guys had gone off to find a Christmas tree for Aileen’s kids and had grudgingly invited Rafe to join them. That’s what had led me to ask her what the fuck Flynn’s problem was with him.
Be careful what you wish for. Flynn thinks he’s not good enough for me, which means Hayden, Jasper, Kristian, Emmett and Sebastian probably agree with him.
“Does everyone feel that way?” I’d asked Nat.
“I’m not sure.” She’d rolled her bottom lip between her teeth, which is a “tell” for her. She knows but doesn’t want to say. Fair enough. None of them like him.
“Does it matter to anyone that I like him?”
“Yes! Of course it does. That’s all that matters. If he makes you happy, we’re happy. You know that.”
I’d eyed her skeptically. “I’m happy with him.”
We’d changed the subject, but the uncomfortable conversation had stayed with me ever since. Natalie had tried to be diplomatic, walking a fine line between not betraying Flynn and trying not to hurt my feelings. She’d failed in the latter account. My feelings were hurt, and they still are. It’s been five freaking years since I dated anyone seriously, so I sort of feel like the guys could at least try to give me a break with Rafe.
I glance at the ornate clock on the wall. He’s going to be here in fifteen minutes. Time to get changed and stop thinking about why my friends don’t like him. They can go fuck themselves.
I remind myself again that they’re not in this relationship. Only Rafe and I are, and we’re the only two who matter. I’m the only who needs to like him and trust him and love him. It’s my life, and no one else is going to live it for me, no matter how much I love my friends. They’re wrong this time, and I am going to prove it to them by making this relationship work.
I’ve decided it’s time to bring Rafe into my lifestyle because I know we can’t succeed long term unless I let him all the way in. Each of the guys has had to do the same with their significant others and did so with stunning success if their happy, dopey grins are any indication.
That’s what tonight is all about for Rafe and me. Taking that next step. Depending on how this goes, I might be ready for what comes next, whatever that may be for a couple juggling a transatlantic relationship.
I’m nervous about tonight because I’m not entirely sure how he’ll react to my desire to dominate him. But I won’t know until I broach the topic with him. He already knows that I’m adventuresome in bed, but he has no idea just how adventuresome I can be. Tonight, he’s going to find out, and I’m excited as well as nervous.
I dart into the women’s changing room, take a quick shower and dress in one of my favorite outfits—a red leather bustier with a matching thong and sexy stockings with a flower pattern running through them. I’ve cut myself short on time, so I put my hair up in a bun and go with a smoky cat eye for my makeup. By the time my phone buzzes with the text I’m expecting from him, I’m ready.
After donning a red silk robe and black stiletto Louboutins with the fabulous red bottoms, I give myself a quick once-over in the full-length mirror and take a deep breath, letting it out slowly. Here goes nothing…
In the lobby, I press the button for the elevator and take it up one floor to the main entrance to the Quantum office building. Most of the people who work here have no idea what’s in the basement. When the doors open, Rafe is facing away from me, looking out at the parking lot.
“Why’d you want to meet here?” He turns to face me, his eyes widening when he sees me in the silky robe and heels. “Is this some sort of office fantasy or something?”
“Not quite.” I extend my hand to him. “Will you come with me and keep an open mind?” He’s absolutely beautiful, with thick wavy dark hair and brilliant blue eyes that crinkle at the corners when he smiles, which is often when we’re together.
He seems hesitant, but he takes my hand, links our fingers and kisses the back of my hand. “I shall happily follow wherever you lead, darling.”
Now imagine that said in a sexy French accent. I’m not one to swoon, but that accent does it for me.
He watches as I place my palm on the scanner that opens the elevator to the basement. “This all very cloak and dagger,” he says as we descend.
We step out of the elevator, and the first thing we encounter is a reception desk. “This is where I have to ask you to sign a nondisclosure agreement that says you won’t disclose anything you see here.”
“Very seriously. If you need a minute to review it, I’m happy to wait.”
Giving me an odd look, he takes the pen I hand him, scans the NDA that spells out the lengths the Quantum partners will go to in order to defend the privacy of everyone who steps foot in our clubs and then scrawls his signature on the line provided. “What’s this all about, Marlowe?”
“Come with me, and I’ll show you.”
Taking him by the hand, I lead him through the double doors with our distinctive Q logo etched into the glass. To the casual observer, the big room we enter might be mistaken for a nightclub, especially now, when there’s no one else here. On a regular night, the place would be pulsing with people, energy and sexual tension. Scenes would be unfolding on the three stages, and potential partners would be negotiating hard and soft limits in the various seating areas and at the bar.
“What is this place?”
“How have I never heard of it?” Before we met, he’d been active in the LA club scene when he was in town.
“Because it’s private.”
“Still, with you and your illustrious partners involved, how does it stay a secret?”
“You read the NDA. That’s how.”
The face he makes indicates his skepticism that even an airtight NDA can keep the lid on anything in this day and age, and perhaps he’s right. Didn’t we learn that when Jasper was blackmailed?
On the far side of the big room, I place my hand on another scanner that opens the door to the dungeon. As we descend the stairs, I begin to feel seriously nervous. Am I doing the right thing? Will he understand? What if he doesn’t? Can I stay with him if he doesn’t get this or doesn’t even try to get it?
Don’t get ahead of yourself. One step at a time. You’ve done this before, and it’s been fine.
Rafe stops short at the entrance to the dungeon. “Holy shit. Are you fucking kidding me?”
“You promised to keep an open mind.” A trickle of unease travels down my backbone as I begin to wonder if I’ve seriously miscalculated.
He strides over to the table where I set out the implements of my craft and picks up the flogger, turning to me, his brow lifted and his mouth set in an expression I haven’t seen before. “What the hell is this, Marlowe?”
I normally love the melodic way he says my name, but there’s no melody to it now. There’s something that frightens me as I realize that no one except for him knows where I am or what I had planned for tonight. Not even my assistant, Leah, who always knows where I am. As he stalks toward me, his blue eyes blazing with anger, I take a step back, furious with myself for being so stupid. I’m thirty-five years old. I should know better by now than to ever put myself at the mercy of a man.
Ugh, they’re usually at my mercy, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Stop.” I hold up my hand to keep him from coming any closer to me. He doesn’t stop. “Rafe, I mean it. Take a pause.”
“Don’t tell me what to do when you’re springing this kinky bullshit on me months into our relationship.” A vein in his forehead bulges as he spews harsh words at me. “Why didn’t you tell me before now that you want to be tied up and flogged and whatever else?”
He’s spitting mad, and I’m trying to figure out why as I think about what I should say.
“Marlowe! What the fuck? You owe me an explanation!”
This is why Flynn and the others don’t like him. They could see he had this in him while I was too busy being besotted to see beyond the glossy surface, the French words of love and the romance of it all.
He’s played me for a fool, and the only thing I want now is to get as far away from him as I possibly can. Immediately.
“I’m sorry, Rafe. Obviously, I’ve made a mistake, and I’ll understand if you’d rather not see me again.”
“Not see you again? Is that what you think is going to happen here?”
“I’m not comfortable with the way you’re behaving.”
He doesn’t like that, and I quickly realize I’ve only made him angrier.
“Isn’t that rich, darling? You’re not comfortable with the way I’m behaving. After spending months together, you decide to show me you’re a kinky whore and you don’t like the way I’m behaving?” He lowers his voice. “You want me to beat you before I fuck you, is that it?”
“No,” I whisper. “That’s not it at all.”
“Then please illuminate me, because I don’t get it.”
The rebellious part of me, the part that fought and clawed her way to success in one of the toughest businesses in the world, rears up inside me. Fuck this shit. “I’m a Dominatrix. I wanted to beat you before I let you fuck me, but that’s not what I want anymore. What I really want now is for you to get the fuck out of here and never contact me again.”
His shock is apparent in the way his face loses all color and his lips go tight before he speaks again in a much lower tone. “That’s it? After everything we’ve shared, you’re going to dismiss me like I’m some kind of servant?”
“I’m asking you to leave.”
“Fuck you if you think you’re going to treat me like I’m nothing.” He moves so quickly, I don’t see it coming until my head snaps back and hits the wall behind me and my face explodes in pain that rattles my teeth. Then he grabs my hair and drags me across the room. I fight him with everything I’ve got, but I’m no match against him physically. He outweighs me by seventy pounds.
Before things go from bad to worse, I have the presence of mind to realize I’m in big, big trouble.