Authors: Lauren Smith
Surrender Series, Book #1
New York Boston
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For Kaylan. The world is dimmer without your light shining in it.
I’d like to thank Aimee, Laurie and Jeanne, my wonderful beta readers and the ladies of the White Car Book Club who remind me that books should inspire discussion and be fun. For my street team members of Lauren Smith’s League, you guys are wonderful and keep me inspired to write every day with your enthusiasm and joy for my stories. Thank you to Amanda and my parents, steadfast supporters who always help make my dreams a reality. And finally, I have to thank my amazing editor, Lauren Plude, who changed my life when she fell in love with the Gilded Cuff series and its bad boy heroes.
CKWOOD, EIGHT-YEAR-OLD TWIN SONS OF
CKWOOD, WERE ABDUCTED FROM THEIR FAMILY RESIDENCE ON
SLAND BETWEEN SEVEN AND EIGHT P.M.
HE KIDNAPPING OCCURRED DURING A SUMMER PARTY HOSTED BY THE
New York Times
, June 10, 1990
Long Island, New York
his is absolutely the stupidest thing I’ve ever done.
Sophie Ryder tugged the hem of her short skirt down over her legs a few more inches. It was still way too high. But she couldn’t have worn something modest, per her usual style. Not at an elite underground BDSM club on Long Island’s Gold Coast. Sophie had never been to any club before, let alone one like this. She’d had to borrow the black mini-skirt and the red lace-up corset from her friend Hayden Thorne, who was a member of the club and knew what she should wear.
The Gilded Cuff. It was
place for those who enjoyed their kink and could afford to pay.
Sophie sighed. A journalist’s salary wasn’t enough to afford anything like what the people around her wore, and she was definitely feeling less sexy in her practical black flats with a bit of sparkle on the tips. Sensuality rippled off every person in the room as they brushed against her in their Armani suits and Dior gowns, and she was wary of getting too close. Their cultured voices echoed off the craggy gray stone walls as they chatted and gossiped. Although she was uneasy with the frank way the people around her touched and teased each other with looks and light caresses, even while patiently waiting in line, a stirring of nervousness skittered through her chest and her abdomen. Half of it had to do with the sexual chemistry of her surroundings, and the rest of it had to do with the story that would make her career, if she could only find who she was looking for and save his life in time. Her editor at the Kansas newspaper she wrote for had given her one week to break the story. What she didn’t know was how long she had to save the life of a man who at this very moment was in the club somewhere. She swallowed hard and tried to focus her thoughts.
Following the crowd, she joined the line leading up to a single walnut wood desk with gilt edges. A woman in a tailored gray suit over a red silk blouse stood there checking names off a list with a feather pen. Sophie fought to restrain her frantic pulse and the flutter of rebellious butterflies in her stomach as she finally reached the desk.
“Name, please?” The woman peered over wide, black-rimmed glasses. She looked a cross between a sexy librarian and a no-nonsense lawyer.
A flicker of panic darted through Sophie. She hoped her inside source would come through. Not just anyone could get into the club. You had to be referred by an existing member as a guest.
“My name’s Sophie Ryder. I’m Hayden Thorne’s guest.” At the mention of her new friend’s name the other woman instantly smiled, warmth filling her gaze.
“Yes, of course. She called and mentioned you’d be coming. Welcome to the Gilded Cuff, Sophie.” She reached for a small glossy pamphlet and handed it over. “These are the club rules. Read over them carefully before you go inside. Come to me if you have any questions. You can also go to anyone wearing a red armband. They are our club monitors. If you get in too deep and you get panicked, say the word “red” and that will make the game or the scene stop. It’s the common safe word. Any doms inside should respect that. If they don’t, they face our monitors.”
“Okay,” Sophie sucked in a breath, trying not to think about what sort of scene would make her use a safe word. This really was the most stupid thing she’d ever done. Her heart drummed a staccato beat as a wave of dread swept through her. She should leave…No. She had to stay at least a few more minutes. A life could hang in the balance, a life she could save.
“There’s just one more thing. I need to know if you are a domme or a sub.” The woman trailed the feather tip end of her pen under the tip of her chin, considering Sophie, measuring her.
“A domme or sub?” Sophie knew the words. Dominant and submissive. Just another part of the BDSM world, a lifestyle she knew so little about. Sophie definitely wasn’t a domme. Dommes were the feminine dominants in a D/s relationship. She certainly had no urge to whip her bed partner.
She liked control, yes, but only when it came to her life and doing what she needed to do. In bed? Well…she’d always liked to think of an aggressive man as one who took what he wanted, gave her what she needed. Not that she’d ever had a man like that before. Until now, every bedroom encounter had been a stunning lesson in disappointment.
The woman suddenly smiled again, as though she’d been privy to Sophie’s inner thoughts. “You’re definitely not a domme.” Amusement twitched the corners of her mouth. “I sense you would enjoy an
How in the hell?
Sophie quivered. The flash of a teasing image, a man pinning her to the mattress, ruthlessly pumping into her until she exploded with pleasure. Heat flooded her face.
“Ahh, there’s the sub. Here, take these.” The woman captured Sophie’s wrists and clamped a pair of supple leather cuffs around each wrist. Sewn into the leather, a red satin ribbon ran the length of each cuff. The woman at the desk didn’t secure Sophie’s wrists together, but merely ensured she had cuffs ready to be cinched together should she find a partner inside. The feel of the cuffs around her wrists sent a ripple of excitement through her. How was it possible to feel already bound and trapped? They constrained her, but didn’t cut off her circulation, like wearing a choker necklace. She wanted to tug at the cuffs the way she would a tight necklace, because she was unused to the restriction.
“These tell the doms inside that you’re a sub, but you’re unclaimed and new to the lifestyle. Other subs will be wearing cuffs; some won’t. It depends on if they are currently connected with a particular dom and whether that dom wishes to show an ownership. Since you’re not with anyone, the red ribbons tell everyone you’re new and learning the lifestyle. They’ll know to go easy on you and to ask permission before doing or trying anything with you. The monitors will keep a close eye on you.”
Relief coursed through Sophie. Thank heavens. She was only here to pursue a story. Part of the job was to get information however she could, do whatever it took. But she wasn’t sure she would be ready to do the things she guessed went on behind the heavy oak doors. Still, for the story, she would probably have to do something out of her comfort zone. It was the nature of writing about criminal stories. Of course, tonight wasn’t about a crime, but rather a victim—and this victim was the answer to everything she’d spent years hoping to learn. And she was positive he was in danger.
When she’d gone to the local police with her suspicions, they’d turned a blind eye and run her off with the usual assurances that they kept a close eye on their community. But they didn’t see patterns like she did. They hadn’t read thousands of articles about crimes and noticed what she did. Somewhere inside this club, a man’s life was hanging by a thread and she would save him and get the story of the century.
“Cuffs please.” A heavily muscled man reached for her wrists as she approached the door that led deeper into the club. He wore an expensive suit with a red armband on his bicep, but his sheer brawny power was actually accented, rather than hidden, by his attire. It surprised her. She’d expected men to be running around in black leather and women fully naked, surrounded by chains, whips, and the whole shebang.
The man looked at her wrists, then up at her face. “You know the safe word, little sub?”
“Good girl. Go on in and have a good time.” The man’s mouth broke into a wide smile, but it vanished just as quickly. She smiled back, and bowed her head slightly in a nod as she passed by him.
She moved through the open door into another world. Instead of a dungeon with walls fitted with iron chains, Sophie found the Gilded Cuff was the opposite of what she’d anticipated.
Music and darkness ruled the landscape of the club, engulfing her senses. She halted abruptly, her heart skittering in a brief flare of panic at not being able to see anything around her.
The dungeons and screams she’d expected weren’t there. Was this typical for a BDSM atmosphere? Her initial research had clearly led her astray. It wasn’t like her to be unprepared and The Gilded Cuff certainly surprised her. Every scenario she’d planned for in her head now seemed silly and ineffective. This place and these people weren’t anything like what’d she’d imagined they would be and that frightened her more than the cuffs did. Being unprepared could get you killed. It was a lesson she’d learned the hard way and she had the scars to prove it. The club’s rule pamphlet the woman at the desk had given her was still in her hands and a slight layer of sweat marked the glossy paper’s surface.
probably should have glanced at it.
What if I break a rule by accident?
The last thing she needed to do was end up in trouble or worse, get kicked out and not have a chance to do what she’d come to do. It might be her
chance to save the man who’d become her obsession.
Sophie made her way through an expansive room bordered with rope-tied crimson velvet drapes that kept prying eyes away from the large beds beyond them when the curtains were untied. Only the sounds coming from behind the draperies hinted at what was happening there. Her body reacted to the sounds, and she became aroused despite her intention to remain aloof. Around here, people lounged on gothic-style, brocade-upholstered couches. Old portraits hung along the walls, imperious images of beautiful men and women from ages past watching coldly from their frames. Sophie had the feeling that she’d stepped into another time and place entirely removed from the cozy streets of the small town of Weston, on the north shore of Long Island.
The slow pulse of a bass beat and a singer’s husky crooning wrapped around Sophie like an erotic blanket. As if she were in a dark dream, moving shadows and music filled her, and she breathed deeply, teased by hints of sex and expensive perfume. Awareness of the world outside wavered, rippling in her mind like a mirage. Someone bumped into her from behind, trying to pass by her to go deeper into the club. The sudden movement jerked her back to herself and out of the club’s dark spell.
“Sorry!” she gasped and stepped out of the way.
As her eyes adjusted to the dim light, bodies manifested in twisting shapes. The sounds of sexual exploration were an odd compliment to the song being played. A heavy blush flooded Sophie’s cheeks, heating her entire face. Her own sexual experiences had been awkward and brief. The memories of those nights were unwanted, uncomfortable, and passionless. Merely reliving them in her mind made her feel like a stranger in her own skin. She raised her chin and focused on her goal again.
The cuffs on her wrists made her feel vulnerable. At any moment a dom could come and clip her wrists together and haul her into a dark corner to show her true passion at his hands. The idea made her body hum to life in a way she hadn’t thought possible. Every cell in her seemed to yearn now toward an encounter with a stranger in this place of sins and secrets. She trailed her fingertips over the backs of velveteen couches and the slightly rough texture of the fabric made her wonder how it would feel against her bare skin as she was stretched out beneath a hard masculine body.
The oppressive sensual darkness that slithered around the edges of her own control was too much. There was a low-lit lamp not too far away, and Sophie headed for it, drawn by the promise of its comfort. Light was safe; you could see what was happening. It was the dark that set her on edge. If she couldn’t see what was going on around her, she was vulnerable. There was barely enough light for her to see where she was headed. She needed to calm down, regain her composure and remind herself why she was here.
Her heart trampled a wild beat against her ribs as she realized it would be so easy for any one of the strong, muscular doms in the club to slide a hand inside her bodice and discover the thing she’d hidden there, an object that had become precious to her over the last few years.
Her hand came to rest on the copy of an old photograph. She knew taking it out would be a risk, but she couldn’t fight the need to steal the quick glance the dim light would allow her.
Unfolding the picture gently, her lips pursed as she studied the face of the eight-year-old boy in the picture. This was the childhood photo of the man she’d come to meet tonight.
The black and white photo had been on the front page of the
New York Times
twenty-five years ago. The boy was dressed in rags, and bruises marred his angelic face; his haunted eyes gazed at the camera. A bloody cut traced the line of his jaw from chin to neck. Eyes wide, he clasped a thick woolen blanket to his body as a policeman held out a hand to him.
Emery Lockwood. The sole survivor of the most notorious child abduction in American history since that of the Lindbergh baby. And he was somewhere in the Gilded Cuff tonight.
Over the last year she’d become obsessed with the photo and had taken to looking at it when she needed reassurance. Its subject had been kidnapped but survived and escaped, when so many children like him over the years had not been so lucky. Sophie’s throat constricted, and shards of invisible glass dug into her throat as she tried to shrug off her own awful memories. Her best friend Rachel, the playground, that man with the gray van…
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.