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Not all fantasies are safe, sane, and consensual. Welcome to the world of The Gallery...
Juliet meets Fort St. Clair on a miserable, drunken night, and wakes up the next morning cuffed to his guest room bed. Of course, Fort would never take advantage of her. No, the pleasure and pain he wants to inflict on her body must be negotiated in advance, because once Juliet sets foot in his private, exclusive dungeon, she belongs to him.
BDSM at The Gallery is supposed to be a straightforward arrangement, an affair by the rules, but Juliet and Fort’s growing connection brings unexpected emotions they can’t control. She’s the free spirit who transforms his rigid world, and he’s the Dominant she can finally trust—or can she?
Chapter One: Fort
I never patronized touristy Manhattan BDSM clubs, especially Underworld, but my friend Devin had ducked inside, so I waited with my other friend in the courtyard, watching pseudo-Doms and glitter subs flirt with each other in the line.
“Waste of time,” Milo grumbled. “None of these chicks are Gallery material.”
I turned my head to see if his low voice had been overheard. Unlike Underworld, The Gallery was a secret, extremely exclusive BDSM club, and we weren’t supposed to spread the word, lest we find our private play space overrun with gawkers, wannabes, and the safety police.
A moment later, Devin emerged. Like us, he was dressed in a suit, fresh from a late dinner at Coleman’s. He grinned, his blue eyes rueful in the dim light. “Found a hot one, but she’s a Domme.”
“Wow,” Milo drawled. “Good work, Dev.”
“She offered to lock my dick in a trap.” He grabbed his crotch with a leer. “So we’re not compatible. Nice ass, though.”
I nodded toward the door. “How are things inside?”
“Stupid. Crowded. Worst music I’ve ever heard in a BDSM club.”
Milo gave him a dark look. “That’s why we don’t come here.”
I rubbed my forehead, then shoved back a drooping curl while the two of them bickered. This whole scene was bullshit. I wanted action, wanted to beat on some masochistic, cowering sub who was into the game. A real sub, not the posturing, pretty club mavens milling outside Underworld. Unfortunately, The Gallery wasn’t open tonight.
I wasn’t sure where my sadistic urges came from. I’d grown up in a safe, loving home with two younger sisters I adored. Sure, my parents had battled through a wretched divorce when I was a teenager, but I’d been into the idea of pain and passion long before that.
I drifted away from the courtyard and noticed a girl in the shadows, slumped against the corner of the adjacent building. Her forehead rested against the brick, her fingers splayed on the wall for support. Her face was covered by messy, shoulder-length hair, but I could see that she wore a collar. Maybe that was why I headed toward her. Kinky people had to stick together. I might be a sadistic Dominant, but I was also a decent human being, and she was alone and distressed in a not-so-great area of the city.
“Hey, Fort, where you going?” Dev called.
“There’s a girl over there.”
“Yeah, and she’s going to mug you when you ask if she needs help,” Milo said. “How long have you lived here?”
I slowed when I got closer, trying to figure out what was wrong with her. She was dressed in a short, dark dress with gray over-the-knee socks. Beautiful legs. Curvy, not too skinny.
God, she was shitty-drunk. I could smell alcohol on her from five feet away. She looked at me sideways with large, kohl-rimmed eyes. Her dark lipstick was smeared, and one hand clutched her stomach.
“Don’t.” She extended her other hand shakily in my direction. “Don’t mess with me.”
“I’m not going to mess with you. Do you need help?”
She turned unsteadily from the wall, her face bunched up with tears. “I...need... I’m fucked... Fucked up.”
“I see that.” I took a step closer, trying not to look threatening despite my height and dark features. “Bad night? How much have you had to drink? What are you doing out here?” She was too clean to be a street person, and too unconventional-looking to be a prostitute. The dress, the eyeliner, the marled, beribboned socks. “It’s not safe to wander around here in the middle of the night,” I told her. “Where are your friends?”
“I’m...here...” She waved a finger in the air, as if her explanations had to be caught from the space around her. “I came here...”
“What’s your name?”
Artsy name for an artsy-looking chick. “Okay, Jewels, my name’s Fort. Are you ready to go home? Is there anyone here who can help get you home?”
She shook her head, suddenly angry. “No. Not with... I’m done. Not him.”
“There’s...no him. Don’t know... How...”
She was sober enough to stay vertical, but not sober enough to make any sense. I turned back to my friends. “What should I do?”
“She’s cute,” Milo joked, “but you’re not supposed to fuck the drunk ones.”
I scowled at him. “We need to help her.” I lowered my voice. “She’s one of us. See her collar?”
“I doubt she’s one of us,” said Devin. “I’m sure she belongs in there.” He pointed to Underworld’s crowded courtyard. “Just lead her back inside.”
I had a feeling this woman’s situation was more complex. “Who are you with?” I asked again. “Do you have a way home? Do you have money? Identification?”
She patted her pockets, reached over her shoulder for a ghostly bag that was no longer there. She turned to look on the ground behind her. Jesus, had some lowlife already stolen her shit?
I thought about what to do. Call the police? With no ID and little ability to speak, she’d probably end up in the drunk tank. Should I take her into Underworld to try to find the person she’d come with?
“Did you come here with someone?” I asked, brushing my fingertip over her collar. “Do you have a Dominant? A Master somewhere inside there?”
She burst into tears again. “He’s bad. I hate him.”
She didn’t answer, or couldn’t answer. She was distraught. Her eyes were pools of pain.
“Did someone hurt you?” I checked over her skimpy dress for signs of a struggle.
“Really?” Dev said. “You’re going to play therapist?”
“Shut the fuck up and look at her. She’s a mess. Something might have happened to her. What if she’s been drugged?”
“What if she took drugs? What if she’s a junkie?”
“She’s drunk, not high,” I snapped.
She slid down the building and wrapped her arms around her knees. Her shoulders shook with sobs.
Milo sighed. “What do you plan to do, man? Drop her off at a hospital?”
“No,” said Devin. “They’ll turn her over to the police.”
“I have to go home,” she sobbed, squinting up at us. From this angle, I could see how blue her eyes were. “Have to...get there.”
“Home? Where’s your home?” asked Milo.
“The Blackwell.” Milo turned and punched my shoulder. “You live in the Blackwell, Fort. She’s all yours. Take her home.”
“Do you live in the Blackwell?” I asked, kneeling beside her.
She nodded. Okay. Fuck. I tried to catch her wavering gaze. “Hey, listen, Jewels. Do you want me to take you home? I live in the Blackwell, too.”
She nodded, poking the front of my suit jacket. “Blackwall.”
“Jesus, you’re fucked up.” I turned to my friends. “Are you going to come with us?”
“Dude.” Milo held up his hands. “You’re the one that got a fucking hard-on to help her. You take her home.”
“Come on. Dev?”
“Nope. Sorry, man. Allie just texted me.” Dev held up his phone, showing a stream of messages littered with emojis. “She’s invited us to hang out at her place tonight.”
“Drop her off at the Blackwell and meet us at Allie’s,” said Milo. “We’ll save a little piece of her ass for you, if you don’t take too long.”
“Fuck.” I looked down at the top of Jewels’ head, wondering why I’d chosen tonight of all nights to play the superhero. “Fine, I’ll meet you there as soon as I can. But before you go, help me get her into a cab.”
* * * * *
The woman fell asleep as soon as the taxi rolled into traffic. The ten-minute ride to the Blackwell building stretched to twenty minutes because of an accident, and she slumped against my shoulder, her unkempt curls tickling my chin.
At least she’d stopped crying. I couldn’t deal with female tears, unless they were sexual-masochist tears, and then I wanted to bathe in them. Yeah, don’t think about that now. Wait until you’re at Allie’s.
We pulled up at the Blackwell, and I half-helped, half-carried her into the lobby. “Any idea where this one belongs?” I asked the doorman.
“No, Mr. St. Clair, don’t recognize her.”
“Fuck.” I lifted her as she started sagging. “She told me she lives here.”
“I don’t know, sir. I can’t say I know everyone in the building.”
I wanted to ask if I could leave her in the lobby until she perked up, but the doorman’s expression was already telling me no. This wasn’t the type of building that allowed passed-out club girls to sleep it off on the sofas, even if she lived here.
“I guess I’ll take her up to my place until she’s a little more with it,” I said.
“That sounds like a good idea, sir.”
“If anyone asks after a woman named Jewels, give me a call.”
“You got it, Mr. St. Clair.”
You’re an idiot, Mr. St. Clair. That’s what his tone communicated, and he was right. I was bringing an unknown woman to my penthouse in the middle of the night. Neighbor or not, she might wake up and accuse me of anything. She might go on a rampage and murder me in my apartment before she jumped out of my fortieth floor window. She might be anyone, or do anything in response to my act of kindness.
As soon as I got her in my apartment, I laid her on a couch in the living room. I’d already checked her clothes in the cab for pockets, ID, a phone. Nothing.
I sat back on my heels, staring at her, trying to think. Fawn-brown hair, smooth skin, but older than I’d originally thought, now that I saw her in the light. Who was she? Had I ever seen her in the elevator? She had gorgeous legs, and I had a weakness for legs, so I probably would have remembered her. I pulled the top of one of her socks to make them even, and let my thumb drift over the bare skin above it before I let go. No, we don’t fuck the drunk ones.
I took off her shoes instead, because they looked clunky and uncomfortable, and she curled into my sofa. She looked a little less vulnerable now, even though her mouth was half-open, and her eyelids twitched as if she was having a nightmare. I brushed aside her hair to find the back of her collar so I could unbuckle it.
She turned her head as I pulled it off, but she didn’t wake. I’d hoped there might be some tag or label, or identifying words written on the inside. No such luck. I turned it over in my hands, inspecting the hardware. It was a novelty store collar, pleather with crap stitching, nothing a serious player would use.
A serious player. I sounded like an elitist asshole, but in the BDSM world, there were people who dabbled, and people who swam in the deep end. I belonged to the latter group, as did the perverts I hung out with. I played in the world where consent and force started to blur—with willing partners, of course, when I could find them.
And when I found them, I didn’t adorn them in cheap pleather painted brass novelty store shit.
I tossed the collar on the end table and went to the kitchen, shedding my suit jacket and loosening my tie. I rolled up my sleeves and ran cool water on a dishtowel, soaking it through and squeezing it out. Damn, the perfect way to spend a Friday night, with someone’s messed up submissive who might or might not throw up on my favorite sofa. If I could go back in time...
If I could go back in time, I’d still help her.
“Wake up, little subbie,” I said. “Where do you live? Someone’s probably looking for you.”
Her eyes tried to open, but didn’t quite manage it. “Good luck,” she said.
“What? Stay with me a minute, Jewels. What unit do you live in?”
“Blackwall.” She rubbed a hand over her face, smearing more eyeliner. “Blackwall.”
“We’re at the Blackwell. What’s your apartment number?”
“Good luck. Boundless.”
I sighed. “I need to get you home. How are you feeling? Are you going to be sick?”
I showed her the bowl, but she ignored it, snuggling deeper into my couch. “So tired. Call good luck.”
She tried to sit up, then laid back down again. I dabbed her head with the cool towel, but she was falling back to sleep. “Tomorrow,” she said on a quiet breath. “Good luck.” A minute later, her eyelids resumed twitching as she relaxed into dreamland.