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At a small, struggling circus in Ulaanbaatar, a fearless trapezist fascinates Cirque du Monde talent scout Jason Beck, until he realizes, halfway through the act, that he already knows this exotic, blue-eyed beauty. Intimately. If he’d known she was part of the act he was here to recruit, he never would have done such basely carnal things to her the night before!
Torn by professional and personal desires, Jason invites Sara to Paris. She’s thrilled to join Cirque du Monde, but her trapeze partner, Baat, is less cooperative. When tensions threaten the future of Sara and Baat’s act, she finds solace in a sexy, consuming Master/slave relationship with Jason. His strict requirements match perfectly with Sara’s desires to submit, to do whatever it takes to please her Master. Soon they’re barreling toward deeper commitments, even love.
But circus life can be chaotic. Perilous. Cirque CEO—and brutal Master—Michel Lemaitre develops an uncomfortable interest in the submissive trapezist, and Baat becomes increasingly difficult to control. Fears and secrets, jealousy and uncertainties threaten to undo everything Sara and Jason have built in their intimate BDSM sessions. Hurt by lies, rocked by shocking revelations, the two must battle to remain bound together in love.
Chapter One: Extra
Jason Beck braced in the back seat of the swerving taxi, tapping his fingers on his thigh. Breathe in. Breathe out. The smoke, crowds, and hectic commotion of Ulaanbaatar’s downtown district were not things he could control.
As much as he liked control.
The cab dodged a drunken pedestrian and turned on a narrow street lit by neon signs, then glided to a stop beside a low building with a scarred, black door.
“This is it?” he asked the driver.
“This is it,” the man replied with a knowing smirk. “I hope you have enjoy.”
Jason made a conscious effort to return the man’s good-natured grin. He knew people perceived him as rigid. Uptight. At Cirque du Monde, he was considered a workaholic in a company of workaholics. He preferred to think of himself as responsible, but at the end of the day he was mostly an out-and-out, three-alarm control freak. Maybe his boss was right. Maybe he needed to loosen up a bit, stop thinking about work so much, even if work had brought him to this far-flung place.
“You’re strung so tight,” Michel Lemaitre had chided as Jason prepared to leave on his scouting assignment. “I want you to take time to enjoy the local pleasures while you’re in Mongolia. I’ll be disappointed if you don’t.”
Jason knew Lemaitre wasn’t talking about Mongolia’s food or scenery when he talked about local pleasures. The man was a hedonist, a sex freak. Jason was pretty freaky too…when he wasn’t burying himself in work.
He made excuses for all the time he spent at work, for his obsession with self-discipline and control. He was driven by the ideals of Cirque du Monde—that circus could be entertaining, even visionary, without the use and abuse of animals. The only animals at Cirque were its human artists and performers, many of whom Jason helped train. Michel Lemaitre, the CEO, had mounted productions in cities all over the globe, sixteen productions in all, and that only happened with a hell of a lot of self-discipline and control.
Jason’s dedication to Cirque had him moving up the ranks, and he had no intention of backsliding. He’d recently been promoted from the coaching team to the Department of Artistic Development, a promotion that included longer days, a more intense workload, and greater involvement in Lemaitre’s decisions. It was a dream come true for Jason, even if his personal and social life suffered. To see an act develop from a scattered hodgepodge of ideas into a polished show-stopper…that brought him more pleasure than he’d ever achieved from serial dating, or casual scening at BDSM clubs.
Then why are you sitting in a cab outside a Mongolian fetish club?
Because of Lemaitre’s little lecture? Or because, somewhere deep inside, some part of him wanted more? More than Cirque, more than talent development, more than the euphoria of a successful opening night? More than a string of short, controlled relationships with women he barely bothered to know? Michel Lemaitre thought Jason needed to loosen up, work less and experience more pleasure, and maybe, just maybe, he was fucking right.
Jason shoved a hand in his pocket and paid the Mongolian cabbie, then emerged from the taxi onto a littered, cracked curb. He straightened the wrinkles in his charcoal suit jacket, adjusted his collar and tie, and ran a hand over his hair, tamed into a low ponytail. When he walked closer to the building’s door, he noticed a hand-lettered sign to one side that read BDSM Fun Club in curly letters.
Maybe this would be stupid.
Maybe it would be sexy.
There was only one way to find out.
The burly men inside the door looked him up and down, assessing his suitability as a patron. Ulaanbaatar was Mongolia’s largest city—nightclubs and bars abounded—but this club apparently strove for exclusivity. He tried to exude his most austere, exacting-dominant demeanor. Otherwise it was a night in a vanilla bar somewhere, or back to the hotel.
At last the head doorman nodded and motioned him forward. They probably gauged his monetary worth more than his fetish potential, but he was in and that was a good thing. He showed his American passport rather than his French one and forked over the exorbitant cover charge. Well, that was the same all over. Single men paid the most for their pleasures. That done, he was waved toward a pair of black curtains.
“No touch girls,” the doorman warned. “Pay for private room, you like. Extra.” He emphasized the extra with an arch of his brow.
Well, obviously the sex was extra, probably a lot extra for a foreigner with an American passport. It didn’t matter, since prostitutes weren’t covered under Cirque du Monde’s travel budget, not even for a newly-promoted Director of Artistic Development. Jason might hit up his boss for the cover charge, though. Michel Lemaitre loved fetish and owned his own network of BDSM clubs, all called le Citadel, one in every city where Cirque had a show. Lemaitre would have visited this club if he’d come to Mongolia, and probably would have taken over the whole damn thing by the end of the night.
Jason entered the main bar and sat at a table near the back, taking in the familiar trappings of the fetish world. Low lights, dark, soundproofed walls, pretty girls writhing in cages in the corners, some nude, some wearing black, strappy lingerie. Others were cuffed to posts or racks, waiting to be played with—for a price. Every woman in the club wore a thick, black collar, even the waitresses weaving between the tables. Most of the patrons sat alone, although a few sat in larger groups, joking and talking.
At the front of the room, a spotlight illuminated a raised platform with a BDSM scene in progress. A short, pudgy man and a very tiny woman were performing some mash up of an English schoolmaster and French maid theme. The woman was cute, if a little shrill for his tastes. Her dominant glowered, brandishing a cane and scolding her in the local tongue. Jason figured he’d do that for a while, talk and lecture and threaten. Titillate the audience to frothing needfulness so by the time the “headmaster” actually started playing with his victim, half the men would be in the back, in the private rooms. Paying extra.
“Good evening, Master.”
Jason turned at the soft greeting. A slender, skimpily-attired waitress placed a napkin on his table, her gaze cast down in true submissive style. “May I get you something to drink?”
She spoke English, sweet, slightly-clipped English with a British lilt. He stared for a moment at the delicate flare of her hips above the band of her lace garter skirt, then raised his eyes to her breasts, perfect in her low-cut bra, and then to her slave collar and the sweep of her shiny black hair. Her high, broad cheekbones gave her an elegant prettiness. She was gorgeous. Exotic.
“How old are you?” he asked. He had standards. He wasn’t going to slaver over her unless she was at least eighteen.
Her pale blue eyes met his. Blue eyes? Mongolians didn’t have eyes like that. Contacts, most likely. It made a pretty effect, although the blue darkened slightly around the iris, revealing her true color. Blue-eyed or dark-eyed, he found her magnificent. Her bronze skin looked so smooth and soft.
“I’m twenty-two,” she said. “Old enough.” She leaned closer, so her breasts lifted a little from the cups of her bra. She was delicious, so tentative and shy.There was naked flesh all around him, bold, seductive women, but all he could think was, I want this waitress. I want her tied up. I want her in a cage, peeking out at me in dread. “Please, Master,” she said, interrupting his thoughts. “I’m here to serve you. A drink,” she added, lest he misunderstand.
He looked at the laminated page of squiggles she handed him. “Do you have any menus in English?”
“If you need help making a choice, Master—”
“Why are you calling me Master?” It irritated him, because he wouldn’t be allowed to master this girl. He couldn’t even touch her without getting thrown out. Bouncers massed in the back, watching all the activity in the room.
She looked away, focusing on the couple interacting on the stage. “We’re supposed to call our visitors ‘Master.’ If you don’t like it…” She blinked mournfully and looked down again.
“I don’t mind it,” he heard himself say. Snort. Guh. Wow, she was beautiful. He swallowed hard, fighting uncontrolled arousal. Maybe…extra…
She hurried off. He wondered if all these hot little sex workers spoke English, or whether she got his table because she was the only one. He watched the sway of her hips as she headed for the bar, the curve of her ass cheeks barely showing beneath her tight-fitting skirt. The sight of her walking away was worth the cover charge he’d paid.
Okay, enough gawking. She was a cute young woman in a short skirt. No need to be creepy. There were plenty of other women to look at. The dancers in the cages grew more suggestive as men milled around, checking them out, and the girl onstage was finally getting her palms whacked by the schoolmaster.
Her palms? Yawn.
Jason wanted to see her ass played with and punished, her cheeks scarlet with cane stripes. Breasts bared and tortured with tit clamps. In his mind’s eye, he pictured his pretty waitress bent over, crying out as he caned her. He pictured his hands on her delicate hips, grasping tight as he plunged inside her pussy…
“Here you go, Master.”
Her melodic voice arrested him mid-fantasy-thrust. For a moment he said nothing, because everything that came to mind was inappropriate. Kneel down. Take out my cock. Suck it. “Thank you,” he finally said in a tight voice. “What is it?”
“It’s a Mongolian sort of vodka. It’s called har.” She bit her lip. “It’s very strong.”
She shook her head, tracing the rough edge of her collar. “We aren’t supposed to tell our names. You can call me girl if you like, or slave.”
“I don’t want to call you girl or slave.”
“Please, it’s not allowed. I need my job here and if I break the rules...” She glanced over her shoulder at the stone-faced bouncers lining the walls. “We’re not supposed to talk to any customer too long, unless you pay.”
“Fine. Go. I don’t want to get you in trouble.”
Jason watched her move to another table, wondering if the extra also applied to her. Was she one of the girls who worked in the back rooms? He didn’t want her to be, because that seemed dangerous and depressing, but at the same time...
He sipped his drink, wincing at the sharp, dry taste. It was like vodka, but stronger, more viscous. He couldn’t decide if he liked it or not. As he nursed the clear, cold har, the audience grew more vocal around him. Everyone was drinking, and some yelled comments at the couple onstage.
Jason didn’t say anything. His mouth felt cottony, and God, a little numb. He was a big guy, and usually had a pretty high tolerance for alcohol, but a few sips of the har had his skin flushing and his head whirling. The alcohol hit him so hard, he wondered if he’d been drugged. He stared at the couple onstage, irritated to find them going in and out of focus. The cages in the corners were blurs, the voices around him blathering away in a sing-song language.
He’d only had a few sips…hadn’t he? Where was his slave girl? He needed her. If he passed out here, alone, what would happen to him? Just as he reached the edge of panic, she was there, touching his elbow.
“Master? I brought you this.”
She held out another drink. He eyed it suspiciously. “Is that soda water?”
“Yes, Master. Mongolian spirits are very strong. Perhaps that drink does not agree with you?”
She leaned down and peered into his eyes. He subdued the urge to grab her, his lifeline to the world. “You drugged me.”
“No, Master. I swear, it’s the har. They told me to give you full strength but this will be better.” She looked around, a furtive glance. “Please. Just wait a few moments and the effects will pass.”
He hoped to God she was right, because he wasn’t feeling so hot at the moment. He took the drink and gave her the other one. “Thank you.”
He stayed upright long enough for her to leave, then leaned on his elbows and sipped the sparkling water. When he finished, she brought him another. He drank all of it, feeling his vision, his thoughts and most importantly, his control, return in slow degrees. Through all of this, the waitress hovered and flitted, watching him. A half hour later, he was almost himself again.
“Thank you for saving me,” he said the next time she came to his table. “If I’d drunk much more of that, I’d have been under the table.”
She wouldn’t meet his eyes. “In Mongolia, alcoholism is a serious problem. The liquors are...what’s the term...very high proof?”
“Yes, proof. Alcohol content. At any rate, thank you for protecting me from myself.”
“You’re welcome. Would you like some other cocktail? Something less potent?”
“I think I’m off alcohol for the night.” But he didn’t want her to leave. He didn’t want her to go off and ignore him. “More sparkling water would be great.”
Up on stage, the maid was forced onto a spanking bench, her skirt tossed up and over her back. When his waitress turned to go, he stopped her with a sound.
“Are you ever in the shows?”
She turned back. “No, Master.”
“But you wear a collar.”
“I have to.”
He felt disappointment. “You don’t do this in real life? Fetish? BDSM?”
“I am submissive, yes.” She glanced at the stage, where the French maid was finally getting her ass beaten by the schoolmaster. “Just not like this.”
“Hm. That’s an intriguing comment.”
He heard her soft intake of breath. She stared into his eyes and he saw something that pleased him. Interest. Maybe even longing. Just as quickly, the revelation was shuttered. “I’m sorry, I have to keep moving. You’re certain you are better from the drink?”
Yes, he was better. Too much better. He was sober enough to want her with a needling ache. “I’m totally better.” He lowered his voice. “I wish you’d tell me your name.”
She wanted to. He could tell she wanted to. He wasn’t misreading her longing looks, her attraction. She fluttered her eyes closed. “I can’t. I’m not allowed. I’ll get you another sparkling water.”
She moved away just as a customer across the room stood and beckoned her with a sharp voice. Even when she went to him, the older man shook his finger and scolded her.
Jason didn’t know what the man said to her, but heads turned toward them—and toward him. His waitress bowed and apologized to the customer. Soon, two of the suited bouncers approached, trying to smooth things over. As Jason watched, they nodded to the complaining man and yanked his girl toward the back.
His girl. Why did he think of her that way? Because she’d been calling him Master for the last hour? Or because of something else?
It didn’t matter. Either way, he wasn’t letting them manhandle her like that. He was on his feet, heading for the corner where the three heavies surrounded her. They barked at her in a rough stream of foreign syllables, and she yelled back, gesturing toward the tables and then toward the place he’d sat.
“What’s going on?” he asked.
She turned to him, her face tense with anger. “They’re angry because they wanted me to serve you strong alcohol. They wanted to get you drunk, take advantage of you and get your money, because you’re American—”
One of the men pressed a palm over her mouth to muffle her words. No, that wasn’t okay with Jason, not at all. He knocked the guy’s hand away from her face, and then they were scuffling, pushing at each other.
“Don’t touch her,” Jason said, even though he doubted the guy could understand him. “Don’t fucking touch her like that.”
The bouncer tried to knock him back but Jason was bigger and stronger. And angry. But before he could give the guy the beating he deserved, an army of bouncers convened on him, hauling him toward the door. Okay, he was getting thrown out. That was fair, but he wasn’t leaving until he knew she’d be all right. He cast a wild look over his shoulder, but she was gone. Where had they taken her? “Let go of me,” he yelled. “Where is she?” Everyone stared as he struggled to free himself. Even the scene onstage had stopped.
Then she was there, storming along beside him, a bag slung over her shoulder. She took off her collar and flung it at the biggest man’s face, along with a stream of furious words. The man yelled back at her, a heated exchange that probably included both the words “I quit” and “You’re fired.” After the doormen extracted payment for Jason’s drinks, he and his waitress were forced out the door.
Fucking hell. It was cold outside, and she stood in nothing but a bra, garter skirt, and stockings. He took off his suit jacket and wrapped it around her until she could pull some jeans and a sweater from her bag. People hurried by, minding their own business. Nothing to see here. Just got kicked out of a fetish club.
“That was fucking ridiculous.” Jason fumed when she handed his jacket back. “Is that true what you said? That they were trying to get me drunk?”
“They do it all the time, to all the tourists who wander in there.”
She’d almost said stupid tourists. He was glad she stopped herself, because he already felt humiliated enough. “We should go to the police.”
“The police won’t do anything.” Her gaze darkened, her blue eyes snapping in anger. “And I won’t get my money. All that work, three weeks, for nothing.”
“I’m sorry. I guess that was my fault.”
She gave him a look of exasperation and walked away.
“Hey.” He shrugged into his jacket and followed her. “Let me make it up to you. How much money were you due?”
She put her head down, walking faster. “I don’t want your money. It wasn’t your fault, not really. And I hated that job.”
“I owe you. You saved my ass in there with that horror or whatever it was called.”
“Will you stop a minute?”
She halted and turned to him, her arms crossed tight over her chest. Inside, he’d sensed some chemistry between them, but now…
He broke out his most charming, seductive smile. “You can tell me your name now, can’t you?”
“I’d rather not.”
“Would you like to get something to eat? I want to make this up to you but I don’t know how.” I’d like to fuck you too, and explore your beautiful body, and kiss those pouting lips. “There’s a place at my hotel, a restaurant with a bar. It’s not too far from here.” He was propositioning her. They both knew it.
She studied him in silence. What did she see? A stupid American? Some businessman looking for a one-night stand? “I’m not hungry,” she said in a flat voice.
“How about some coffee then? We should hang out for a while.”
“Because…” Because my boss told me I had to sample the pleasures of Mongolia. But that wasn’t why. There was something else in play here, some weird, aching attraction that wouldn’t go away. “Because you helped me,” he finally said. “Because I’m a flailing, clueless American in Ulaanbaatar and I just got you fired, and I’d like to make it up to you, if there’s any way.”
“There’s no way. You can’t make it up to me.”
She took off again. He lunged and grabbed her elbow. “Please, wait.”
She angled herself away from him, but she didn’t go. He stared down at her, wondering why he was doing this hard sell. He didn’t usually have to. Women threw themselves at him in Paris, due to his reputation as a skilled Dom. Women liked his body, his build. He was tall and muscular, and exceptionally fit from his background in acrobatics. How long since he’d petitioned a woman like this, begged for sex? He hadn’t begged yet, but he might if it came to that, if that’s what it took to possess this lovely creature just once. One time, that was all he needed, or he’d spend his whole life wishing she hadn’t gotten away.
“Do you have to leave right now?” he asked. “Where are you going?”
“Home. It’s late.”
“It’s not that late.”
“It’s cold and I just got fired.”
“I can warm you up.” He didn’t mean the words to sound sleazy. Oh wait, yes, he did.
She shook her head. “You’re a tourist. You’re going to leave. I don’t have time for this.”
She set her jaw, her lips pursed into a heart shape he wanted to kiss. She wanted him. He knew it, but she wouldn’t have him. She was too angry, too conflicted. And he would leave in a few days, as she said. She didn’t want a hook-up, and that was all he could offer her.
“Okay then.” He gave up, because he believed in control, even control of his own passionate urges. “Let me give you some money and find you a cab.”
He let out a huff of frustration. “Tell me your name, at least.”
“You’re full of nos. To be honest, I preferred the Yes, Masters. They were pretty great.” He put a thumb under her chin and tilted her face to his. “Are you okay? Have those guys roughed you up before? Was it a…a bad place to work?”
She swallowed hard, her gaze flitting away. “It was an awful place to work. This is an awful place to live. You’re lucky you get to leave.”
Surely she would fit in his suitcase. He could take her home, put a collar around her neck. “My name’s Jason,” he said, taking out his wallet for a business card. “Jason Beck. If you ever need anything, I live in Pari—”
She pushed his hand down before he could give it to her. “Please, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know.”
* * * * *
For a moment, he looked so angry she thought he might slap her. But no, he wasn’t that type of man. He was civilized, disciplined. Controlled. He returned the card to his wallet as she saved his name in her memory. Jason. Jason Beck.
When things got bleak—and they were always bleak—she would repeat it to herself and remember there were men like Jason Beck in the world, men with big, graceful bodies and kind eyes.
But to go with him to his hotel, to accept the one-night stand he was offering, that would only bring regret.
Push and pull. She’d always liked that English phrase, and now she understood it. Jason Beck was like some physical force of nature. The harder she pushed him away, the more she felt pulled to him. He had pushed and pulled at the club, pushed away Tomor when he tried to silence her. He’d tried to protect her.
That was an entirely new thing.
“If you’re going to leave me with nothing,” he said, pocketing his wallet, “at least give me a name. Any name. Otherwise I’ll make up something ridiculous to remember you by, like Fantasia Dee-lite, or Cinnamon Buns.”
A sense of humor too. She let out a sigh. “I suppose you could call me...Sara.”
“Sara? That’s an English name.”
“If you wish.”
His eyes narrowed and his lips turned down at the corners, not in a scary way, but enough to see the dominant personality there. She was certain he was dominant. His posture, his questions, the way he’d defended her at the club, even his persistence in the face of her refusals, all of it communicated dominance and power. This man was used to being obeyed. She wondered what it would be like to do a BDSM scene with him. She could find out if she wanted to, if she wasn’t so tired of loss, of hurting.
“Silly Sara,” he said. He slid a hand across her cheek, then cupped her face. She studied his Western features in the dim glow of the surrounding shop lights. Wide-set, long-lashed blue eyes, a straight, handsome nose, and full lips that curved in the most seductive way. His shoulder-length brown hair was pulled back, but some stray strands escaped. Under the streetlight she could see other colors reflected in them. Gold, mahogany, brass.
“Why did you call me silly?” she asked.
“Because you won’t come to the hotel with me. You want to. You just won’t.”
“I can’t.” A stupid, vague excuse, but she couldn’t be more specific. She couldn’t confess that one night with him would probably destroy her, because nothing afterward could ever live up to it. She hated this sexy, powerful, enthralling, foreign man. She also wanted him more than she’d ever wanted anything in her life.
“I’m very kinky,” he said. “You would have a lot of fun with me, because I think you’re very kinky too.”
She looked around self-consciously. There were people everywhere, coming and going from the clubs. “That’s good to know. Let go of me, please.”
He didn’t let go of her. “Do you have a lover here, Sara? Someone who satisfies your needs? I hope so. I hope that’s why you’re turning me down.”
“I’m turning you down because you’re leaving.” To her horror, she felt tears glossing over her eyes. That was all she needed, to start bawling in front of him.
“I’m not leaving yet.” His fingers trailed over her jaw line. “I have three days. Maybe four.”
“One night,” she heard herself say. “One time.”
Really, Sara? After all that, she was going to give in? But the pull…the pull was so strong.
He let go of her face and touched her arm. “If you like, it can just be a scene. No sex. It can be anything you want it to be.”
She gave a short, fluttery laugh. “No sex?”
“Or sex. Lots of sex. Either way.”
She hugged her bag closer. “This is a horrible idea.”
“We’ll probably have a horrible time, but as you said, it’s just one night.”
She ignored his teasing, his beguiling smile, and spoke with intensity. “I meant what I said. One night, because you’re leaving and I don’t want to get attached to you only to say goodbye. I don’t want you trying to talk me into anything else. Not two nights. Not three nights. One night together. That’s all.”
“Okay. One night.”
“You promise? Say it to me. ‘I won’t try to talk you into anything else.’” She stared at him so he would understand how serious she was.
“One night,” he said after a moment. “I won’t try to talk you into anything else.” Again, the teasing edges of his mouth turned up. “You’re awfully demanding for a slave type.”
“I’m not making demands. I’m negotiating.”
He threw his head back and laughed. It was such a rich, surprising sound that she couldn’t hold back an answering smile. She hadn’t smiled in so long.
One night. She’d earned it this last couple years. She would deal with the loss of him later. She told herself it was better than dealing with the loss of him now.
He slid a hand around her waist and placed another on her neck. He squeezed, not hard, but hard enough to make her tremble. “Do you like it rough or gentle, Sara? Playful or intense?”
She should lie and say gentle. Playful. He was a stranger, someone she hadn’t known a couple hours ago.
But he would know if she lied. He stared at her as if he was analyzing every feature, every whisper of emotion on her face. In the end she gave him truth, because they only had this one time. “I like it intense, Master. I like it to hurt.” His fingers tightened against her pulse, prompting deeper confessions. “I like it to feel real.”
His lips closed a moment, then opened. She could feel his cock against her front, a large, hard warning of things to come. What are you getting yourself into? He’s a huge guy. He could take you somewhere and beat you to death.
But he wouldn’t. She knew with some inborn, animal sense that this man preferred to nurture, not destroy. She could see in his eyes that he understood her—and even better, that he knew how to meet her needs. “Where can I get something hurty in this city?” he asked. “A whip? A cane? I find myself suddenly in need of one.”
She shivered, holding his gaze for long seconds. “There’s a shop around the corner.”
What are you doing, Sara?
But it was out of her hands now. It was force, magnetism drawing them together. Push and pull.