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Cilena and Lorey have been best friends since childhood, bound by shared trauma. The two girls, however, have taken different paths into adulthood. Cilena has become the model she always dreamed of being. Lorey’s journey has taken her to a far darker place.
The two are still close, that is, until Lorey goes missing. Cilena does some searching of her own and discovers photos online of Lorey in bondage at Midnight Cavern. She must now find this mysterious, secretive place, and rescue her friend – at any cost. Cilena contacts Recovery, an agency that does whatever it takes to get the job done.
An agent from Recovery, Rafer, guides Cilena into the kinky world of Midnight Cavern. But, Rafer – handsome and sexy – has a past of his own to overcome that makes him dangerous, too.
What will the two find when they finally enter this world of darkest desire and ultimate fantasy? Will they find Lorey before it’s too late? Or will Cilena lose herself while trying to find her friend? And what of Rafer’s past?
Come along with Rafer and Cilena as they navigate the treacherous yet enticing world of Midnight Cavern.
Publisher’s Note: This standalone story contains graphic descriptions of adult content and BDSM themes.
*** Currently availabel exclusively at Amazon ***
“Are you alone?” sixteen-year-old Cilena Galliher asked the girl on the other end of the line.
“Yeah. He left for work, finally.”
No longer half asleep, Cilena sat up. “What about your mom?”
“Who knows? She and what’s-his-face had a fight earlier. When she took off, she said she didn’t know when she’d be back.”
“And she left you with him?”
“Are you all right?”
Lorey, who was Cilena’s best friend and dream-sharer, didn’t immediately answer. “Sure,” Lorey said at length, her tone unconvincing. “Why shouldn’t I be? Besides, he said he’d buy me a new outfit.”
In exchange for molesting you. Cilena glanced at the clock in her bedroom. It was a little after 11 p.m. on a school night. “I’m coming over,” she said.
“No! I mean, I didn’t call because I wanted to cry on your shoulder. I just thought, well…”
You don’t cry, not anymore. “My folks are out of town. They’ll be gone at least until the weekend.”
“I’m a big girl. I can take care of myself. I just—look, I don’t know why I’m bothering you, all right.”
“That’s what best friends do.” Cilena slipped out of bed and reached for the clothes she’d been wearing. “Besides, neither of us is going to be able to sleep.”
Lorey didn’t answer, but her shaky sigh reached across the three miles separating them.
“Hang tight,” Cilena said. “I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
Not giving Lorey time to try to talk her out of it, she hung up the phone. Fortunately, her parents had made good on their promise to buy her a car as reward for her good grades. It could barely keep up with a bicycle, but the car was reliable transportation. The drive should give her time to plan what she needed to say to Lorey, shouldn’t it? What she needed to do.
No, it wasn’t , Cilena acknowledged as she pulled into the dirt driveway of the rental Lorey lived in with her mom and her mother’s latest boyfriend, a man who creeped her out because he never looked her in the eye. Instead, his leer said he wanted to get his hands on her C-cup breasts.
Lorey was sitting on the small front porch in her nightgown, her feet on the top step, and arms locked around her knees as if trying to hug herself. Cilena couldn’t read Lorey’s expression but didn’t need to.
What could she say to the girl she considered her sister, a girl who shared her love of track and science, a girl who had no memory of her father and knew there’d never be money for college?
“You want to blow this town?” Cilena asked as she sat next to the shivering Lorey. “We could pack our bathing suits and jump on the next plane to Hawaii. Spend all our time on the beach getting tanned and staring at male surfers.”
“We can’t afford it. Besides, I don’t want anything to do with boys.”
Cilena couldn’t imagine not being interested in boys. In truth, for the past year or so it had been hard to think of anything else, and if Jeff didn’t ask her to the prom…
Knock it off! This isn’t about Jeff or you.
“Do you want to talk about it?” She debated suggesting they go inside where it was warmer, but she hated being in the tiny, crowded, dirty place and knew it was even worse for Lorey.
“Was it the same as the last time? He’d been drinking?”
“What does it matter!” Lorey snapped. Then she sighed and shook her head. “I’m sorry. I’m not mad at you.”
“I know you aren’t.”
“It’s me.” Lorey leaned forward and covered her face with her hands. “I should know how to make him stop. Fight. Something.”
“He’s huge and with that belly—”
“I’m faster than him, but when he comes after me, I get so scared.” She took a shaky breath. “I hate being scared and feeling dirty. Hate everything about… it.”
Despite her revulsion, Cilena struggled to comprehend what it felt like. She was a virgin although Jeff and a couple of other guys had been trying to talk her out of the status. She’d taken the health classes, gotten the talk from her mother, and had seen enough R-rated movies to figure she understood what sex was like.
But rape and sex weren’t the same thing.
“Talk to Mrs. Albers,” she said, referring to their track coach. “She meant it when she said she was there for anything. Or the police. They’d—”
“No!” Lorey scrambled to her feet and started pacing. “No! And you can’t say anything.”
“He’s breaking the law.”
“I don’t want anyone to know, to have to tell.”
“You told me.”
“Thank you for saying that, but I can’t stand not doing anything.”
“I’ll get him to stop.” Lorey sounded desperate. In the inadequate light, her face looked bloodless. “I will. The next time he comes near me, I’ll scream and kick him where it’ll do the most good.”
With everything in her, Cilena wanted to believe Lorey. Her friend was the school’s fastest female sprinter and hadn’t gotten below an A in science, but she had little self-confidence. Cilena believed she knew why. With a father who didn’t seem to care that she was alive, a mother who acted like it was Lorey’s fault she’d been born, and four older siblings who’d cut and run the moment they turned eighteen, how was Lorey supposed to feel worthwhile?
Sometimes—rarely—Cilena wished she’d chosen someone who didn’t live from crisis to crisis as her best friend, but Lorey needed her.
Also, Lorey knew things about her she’d never told anyone, like her dream of becoming a model. Lorey understood dreams, secrets, and caring.
And that made them close, bonded them.
“Come home with me,” she finally came up with. “You can leave your mother a note.”
“Are out of town, remember. Besides, they love you.”
“They wouldn’t if they knew.” Lorey came closer. “You haven’t said anything, have you? You promised you wouldn’t.”
“I haven’t said a word.” Not for the first time, she hated herself for agreeing to silence when she should be raising heaven and earth trying to get Lorey out of this nightmare. Some day, when she was older and in control, she would become Lorey’s savior.
It was a promise.
Twelve years later
Cilena stepped inside the nondescript door and reluctantly closed it behind her. The interior was too dark and quiet. Her every instinct screamed at her to return to the successful, in-control life she’d carved for herself, but of course she couldn’t.
Until she’d learned whether Lorey was dead or alive, nothing else mattered. When her eyes adjusted to the gloom, she realized she was in a long, narrow hall.
Darn it, Recovery should have a more impressive looking office. She’d been led to believe the private organization had connections that put the FBI and Secret Service to shame, but now she had her doubts. Darn it, it had cost her a thousand dollars just to get enough information about Recovery to understand that the organization dedicated itself to doing whatever it took to help people regain something or someone they’d lost. Their methods weren’t always strictly legal, but apparently, they refused to do anything that would put anyone’s life at risk. If the head of security for a precious gems company had lied to her, she’d—what? Sue the man while maybe Lorey’s life lay in the balance?
Thoughts of what might have happened to the woman she still considered her soul sister sent Cilena down the hall. In the years since she and Lorey had shared everything, she’d turned her body into a finely-honed tool and become the model she’d dreamed of back when Lorey was living a nightmare. Most times she accepted her body as her meal ticket, but today she was grateful for her muscular legs, the result of endless hours in the gym, and running. If she didn’t like what she saw about Recovery, she’d turn tail and run.
Only she couldn’t.
Are you alive, Lorey? Please, you have to be!
The sign on the door at the end of the hall looked as if it had been nailed up by someone who’d never used a hammer, but the unlocked door was steel. There were two deadbolts. As she stepped inside, she caught a humming sound. A bank of glowing monitors on a far wall explained a lot about the sound. Whoever was behind the San Diego branch of Recovery relied on high-tech.
At first glance, the room looked empty, but that was because it was so large that taking everything in took time. There were several cubicles, each with its own computer. Intense, casually dressed men and women hunched over the units.
A thin middle-aged woman stood and walked toward her, her attention never leaving Cilena. “You’re looking for Galen, right?” she said.
“I—yes, that’s the name I was given. But before I see him, could you tell me more about what happens here?”
“There isn’t much I can say because we’re dedicated to our clients’ privacy.”
“I understand that but—”
“But you don’t know enough, I get it.” The woman smiled. “Mostly we do things that people can’t on their own. As an example, we just helped a man set up a trust for the daughter he hadn’t seen since she was an infant. He couldn’t find her on his own. Now they’re starting to build a relationship.”
“It sounds wonderful.”
“Sometimes it is. Other times… There.” The woman pointed at a room to the left. “Galen is expecting you.”
“Oh,” Cilena managed to say. She didn’t know what she’d expected, maybe armed guards, maybe being frisked, something. Instead, no one seemed concerned that an outsider had walked into the middle of the operation. Then she realized everyone was watching her. Also, there were cameras near the ceiling.
Can these people feel my tension, my fear, the undeniable sexual excitement spawned by the unknown?
Turned on? Shit, Cilena, are you insane?
Pretending indifference, she thanked the woman. Like the outer door, this one was substantial. The new room was maybe a tenth the size of the outer one and held a large cluttered desk with several well-worn easy chairs around it. Behind the desk, nearly obscured by it, sat a man who couldn’t have been more than five and a half feet tall. Like the woman out front, he’d said goodbye to his forties, and like the woman, his gaze locked on her. She was accustomed to drawing attention and most times took it for what it was worth which wasn’t much, but now wasn’t about her. Only Lorey mattered.
The man had almost no hair and from its straggly appearance, he couldn’t care less. His shirt looked as if he’d pulled it out of the dryer after it had sat there for days. His hands were large compared to the rest of him, and when he stood and came around the desk toward her, she wondered when he’d last bothered to eat.
“I’m Galen,” he said, holding out his hand. “And you’re Cilena.”
“Yes.” He hadn’t invited her to sit so she continued to stand. The room smelled of old wood and dust, yet his computer setup looked as if a person could run the space program from it.
“All right, Cilena, I’m sure you have questions about Recovery , but first I want to give you an idea of how efficient we are. If you don’t mind, I’d like to bring in the operative you’ll be working with.”
The operative? Like a human being?
Before she could decide whether to make a point of the odd term, the door she’d just come through opened again, and a man filled the space. Hell, he did more than fill it, he commanded it.
His height? Well over six feet. His body? As hard as a seasoned professional athlete. The black and silver Oakland Raiders T-shirt he wore seemed painted on muscle and bone. For a moment, she couldn’t take her attention off the pirate figure in the middle of his chest. Was the man encased in the shirt the embodiment of the pirate, savage and aggressive? Taker of things or people he desired?
An icy fist gripped her heart, making it hard to breathe. At the same time, she felt rawly alive. With an effort, she continued her appraisal. He stood with his legs slightly spread, his impressive chest muscles forcing his arms out a bit from his body. He needed a shave. Surely once he’d run a razor over his chin he’d look less dark, less shadowed. Surely. He also needed a haircut because the unkempt length added to the uncivilized-male look. His eyes were coal-black, deep-set, and large. Penetrating.
Suddenly scared, Cilena forced her attention off the big, dark—maybe deadly—male. “Cilena,” Galen said. “This is Rafer.”
Rafer? Doesn’t he have a last name?
Shaking hands with Galen had been easy but no way in hell was she ready to let this animal-like creature touch her. She managed a nod at the still-silent man and sank into the nearest chair. She couldn’t begin to relax. “What do you mean, operative?” she asked. Damn, her voice held a husky note, the voice of a woman who was turned on.
Galen looked at Rafer and shrugged. When Rafer only continued his predator-like perusal of her, Galen sighed. “The website you directed us to when you first contacted Recovery —the Midnight Cavern—how much do you know about it?”
All air seemed to leave the room. This is important, she reminded herself. Maybe the most important thing you’ll do in your life.
“Not much,” she admitted in the sex-deepened tone she couldn’t shake or explain. “Just what I saw from the public pages.”
“Which are practically useless.” Rafer spoke for the first time, his voice low and rough and getting to her in ways she couldn’t fathom. “What’s there gets past the morality patrol. Only those who have been granted access get the real picture.”
“And you have access?” she asked, cold again.
When he only returned her stare, she turned her attention to Galen who struck her as being tenser than he’d been at the beginning. “All right,” she said, “so all I have are the teasers to go by.” She suppressed a shudder. “But what I saw—short video clips of my best friend naked, tied and gagged.” She took a deep breath. “How much worse can it get?”
“Enough.” Rafer stepped all the way in the room and leaned against Galen’s desk. He’d positioned himself, maybe deliberately, so his cock was nearly at her eye level.
This isn’t going to work! I can’t . On the verge of blurting she’d made a terrible mistake, an image from the clips of Lorey burst to her mind’s forefront. Despite the video’s jerky quality, she’d watched as several whip blows struck Lorey’s breasts. Someone had fastened metal clamps to Lorey’s nipples, and every blow made them shake. Ever since, she’d had nightmares about the sound of leather strips striking flesh, and Lorey’s moans. The worst had been when the camera panned to Lorey’s face. Her eyes had been huge and helpless. Alive.
What’s happened to you? Is this the why you stopped being in touch? I thought… hell, I don’t know what I thought. Anything except this.
“All right.” She forced emotion out of her voice. “So you have access to the site’s inner contents. How does one join? I tried but was rejected. Something about needing to be recommended by a current member.”
“You tried?” Rafer cocked his head at her. “Why?”
“Not because those images turn me on, that’s for damn sure!” No one need ever know she’d been at her computer with her battery-operated sex toy against her sex as she explored bondage sites because she’d long been curious about the lifestyle—if that’s what it was called. That’s when she’d stumbled across Midnight Cavern—and Lorey. “Look, if it had been you accidentally finding that site and seeing your best friend being exploited—”
“Best friend? If you’re that close, how come you didn’t know what she was up to?”
“Up to?” She glared. “How dare you assume she’s there willingly?”
Instead of answering, Rafer continued to stare.
“We’re close, always have been,” she said. “It’s just that—you know—each living our own lives.” Mine being a lot more organized than hers and maybe her feeling as if she wasn’t measuring up and me feeling—shit—maybe feeling superior and irritated by her lack of direction. “I haven’t seen or talked to her for about three months. I didn’t realize it had been that long until I saw her.”
“What were you doing exploring such sites?”
Damn him! Damn him! “Curiosity.”
His mouth twitched.
“I don’t owe you any more of an explanation,” she retorted. “I’m free, white, and over twenty-one.”
“Rafer.” Galen’s voice held a warning note. “The how and why of her finding what she did is unimportant.”
“Maybe.” Rafer’s gaze had held on her face since he’d entered the room, but now his attention trailed lower. She felt his heat on her throat, breasts, belly, between her legs. “And you’re convinced your friend isn’t there of her own free will?”
Just like that, everything else—even the hot message in his study of her—became unimportant. She leaned forward, one hand at her throat. “Impossible. Lorey and I have shared everything since elementary school. I had a normal middle-class upbringing complete with stay-at-home mom and white-collar father. They’re still married, still in love with each other. I have two older brothers both happily married with children.”
“Unlike you. You’re still single.”
How much do they know about me? “ Yes, I’m single.”
“Without a steady boyfriend because you’ve put your career first. You’re making an unreal amount of money modeling and promoting exercise clothing, but you know your years of banking on your physical body are limited so you’re investing in the company you work for. In addition, you’re designing girls’ running shoes and plan to present them to major athletic shoe companies.”
Oh God. “You’ve done your homework,” she acknowledged. “I’d ask how you learned those things, but you wouldn’t tell me, would you?”
Galen sighed. “Cilena, you’re asking Recovery and specifically Rafer, to undertake a complex operation. Midnight Cavern has been in existence for years and has extensive contacts, many powerful, wealthy, and influential members who are determined to retain their anonymity. My first responsibility to my operative,” he jerked his head at Rafer, “is to guarantee his safety. You check out. You have no connection to political or business foes of any Midnight Cavern members.”
This was getting way too complex. All she cared about was saving her friend, if it wasn’t too late. Prompted by the knot of fear for the woman she considered her sister, she stood and leaned over Galen’s desk. Doing so placed her within inches of Rafer. “Do you know as much about Lorey as you do about me?” she asked.
“No,” Galen admitted, “because until you mentioned her name, we didn’t know who you wanted us to find.”
“That’s because I wasn’t sure I could trust you.”
Cilena glanced at Rafer, who’d asked the question. Damn, did he have to be so tall, so imposing? And what was with the sexuality oozing from his pores? A woman would have to be dead not to feel it and she wasn’t dead—far from it.
“I’m not sure,” she said.
“Tell us about Lorey,” Rafer said. The order rumbled from him, and she felt the vibration everywhere, even between her legs.
Lorey, this is for you. Otherwise—otherwise I’d be running from this man. Either that or jumping his bones. “Her father walked out when she was a baby. Her mother can’t live without a man in her life. Unfortunately, she has lousy taste in the opposite sex.”
Rafer’s expression hardened a little. Get to the point, it said.
“You’ve heard about children who grow up with a succession of uncles? That’s what happened to my best friend. Some of them, particularly a guy who was around for much of her teenage years, believed the daughter came with the mother.”
“He molested Lorey?”
“Yes.” She managed to tell him. “Over and over until I told my parents and my father had him arrested.”
“How did Lorey handle it?” Rafer asked.
“Scared, grateful.” And in the beginning so angry at me that I was scared I’d ruined everything between us. “Her-her mother didn’t believe her at first. Lorey had to testify against Jake.” She took a hopefully calming breath. “So did I. Testimony from two girls with no reason to lie resulted in a conviction.”
Something brushed the back of her hand. Startled, Cilena looked down. Rafer’s hand rested an inch from hers. Had it been a comforting gesture on his part?
“Jake got to you, too?” Galen asked.
She swallowed. “Yes. But only twice, though not the way he bothered Lorey.” All he did was take my virginity. Knowing she’d never tell these men that, she straightened. “I know things about Lorey, like her introduction to sex and her current feelings about her sexuality. Midnight Cavern touts itself as a gathering place for consenting adults committed to exercising their legal rights to explore and test the limits of domination and submission.” She’d memorized Midnight Cavern’s motto, not because she’d ever embrace the lifestyle—surely not—but because she’d needed to understand the world Lorey had been forced into.
“After what Lorey went through, I’m certain she’d never willingly place herself in a submissive relationship. Being in control means everything to her. What I saw in the video—” Bile rose in her throat, but she forced it down. “I’ll never believe that shit about consent. I’m certain Lorey is being held against her will. Whatever it takes, whatever I have to do, I’m going to get her out of there.”
Unless it’s too late.