“You don’t look like you belong here, little fox.” The man who spoke—tall, lean and dressed like a devil—was the epitome of everything Sunny had feared she’d find inside the BDSM sex club called Sanctuary.
Her breath sped, and her chest tightened as the large room shrank to nothing.
This is a horrible mistake. What was I thinking?
“Do you want to come sit with me and talk?” Devil-man asked, his lips curling into a smile below the line of his black mask. It wasn’t a vicious smile, at least on the surface, but it sure felt sinister.
The desire to say no perched on her tongue, but she couldn’t make it come out. She’d learned that saying no was dangerous, that it never got her what she wanted. The lesson was one that had stuck with her no matter what.
So, instead, she darted her gaze toward the crowd of people and pretended to spot someone she knew, waving in that direction.
The man stayed in his spot, letting her go, and she made a quick path for the bathroom. Once safely inside—the one place where no man would try to talk her into anything—she set her hands on the white porcelain sink and stared into the mirror.
Maybe a fox had been a stupid costume. She’d tried on a few different ones that radiated strength, but they had felt like a lie. Sunny was as soft as they came, so when she’d tried on the little white sundress, along with the fox mask that obscured her eyes, and some drawn-on whiskers, she’d known it was more her. Foxes were smaller than other predators, but quick and clever. She connected with that, understood it. At least, it had made sense until she’d walked into a club full of lions and tigers and dragons.
Suddenly, her fox didn’t seem so clever.
One night. Prove that you don’t want this anymore.
She nodded and straightened herself, pulling her shoulders back. She was here for a reason. She’d go out there, find someone to play with, and by the end of the evening, she’d know that she was done with all this nonsense. She could wake up tomorrow sure of herself, able to put this behind her. The plan helped her move forward.
The door to the bathroom opened as a woman in lingerie and a cat mask walked in, the music from outside deep and rhythmic. Her hair was blonde and beyond stunning, so pale it was nearly white. Even from behind the half-mask, her almost gray eyes shone brightly.
The woman approached, a smile across her pink lips, the color smeared as though she’d been kissing someone just before. “It’s so much fun tonight, right?”
Sunny nodded despite not feeling quite so sure. “Yeah.”
The woman glanced down at Sunny’s wrist, at the cuff the receptionist at the door had placed there with a white ribbon. “Oh, you’re new? Is this your first time?”
First? Try only. Instead of saying that, Sunny tried to smile. “Yes.”
The woman stuck her hand out. “My name is Kat.” She winced as soon as she said it. “I know—it’s a masquerade party—it’s supposed to be all anonymous. You don’t have to give your name. I’m just not good at the whole secrecy thing. And yes, I know, Kat—cat costume—cliché, but why not, right?”
Sunny had trouble understanding Kat. She’d figured the sort of people in a place like this would terrify her. The men would be scowling brutes, lumbering around just looking for a victim, and the women quiet, frightened little things who cowered at everything. That’s what I was…
Kat wasn’t anything like that.
Sunny shook the offered hand, unsure how to answer, other than the fact that she wouldn’t be giving her name. That would negate the entire point of her coming here on this night. Sunny needed to do what she’d come to do then leave—no ties threatening to trap her.
Kat chuckled, as if she could read the nerves that poured off Sunny. “Afraid of the big bad Doms? Come on—you can hang out with me. Safety in numbers, you know.”
Sunny wanted to say no—it felt too much like putting herself into a life she was trying desperately to get out of. Still, having a partner next to her did feel better.
“That would be nice,” Sunny admitted softly.
Kat asked her to wait a moment so she could use the restroom, then washed her hands before tucking her arm through the crook of Sunny’s. It was an oddly safe feeling, as though Sunny had found a guide to this absolutely terrifying place. Sure, Kat wasn’t all that intimidating, but at least Sunny wasn’t alone.
They walked out, with Kat holding securely to Sunny’s arm. “I love the last Saturday of the month. Something about dressing up makes everything more fun, plus it’s the day we let the new folks come. It gets boring with the same old folk every weekend, and new blood is always good.”
It also let Sunny move around the club with a sense of privacy, without feeling everyone was looking at her, could see her.
Sunny’s gaze couldn’t settle on any one thing. The bodies that moved on the dance floor, the groupings of people, the colors and costumes and activity, all fought for her attention.
And it all overwhelmed her. Sunny’s world was quiet, calm. She’d worked hard to create a haven away from the craziness of everyday life.
So what was she doing here?
She turned her attention back to Kat, to the cuff around her wrist—identical to Sunny’s except for the fact that it had a myriad of ribbons on it. Red, teal, green and yellow striped—they meant nothing to Sunny. She vaguely recalled the receptionist explaining it to her as she’d signed in, but Sunny hadn’t heard any of it. Her anxiety had been far louder than rules or color coding.
“What do the ribbons mean?” Sunny asked, trying to find something to fill the silence with.
Kat held up her wrist to show the leather cuff with the colored ties. “For members, we use these to identify what people are looking for and what limits they have. We still ask of course, just to make sure, but these make it obvious right from the start. If someone hates something you love, you know it may be a bad fit before even trying. Nothing worse than a hardcore masochist falling for a Soft Dom who doesn’t like to even raise their voice. Makes everyone unhappy when people don’t click.”
Sunny frowned when the explanation didn’t make any sense to her.
Doms never care what their subs want.
However, she kept that to herself. People saw what they wanted, and Kat seemed the type to let romantic notions blind her to the truth. No doubt she’d say the Doms here were different, that they were somehow exempt from the reality Sunny had experienced before. There wasn’t any reason to argue over it, so Sunny let the topic drop.
They went to one of the tables set out with coffee and snacks, and Kat filled a small plate with items for them both. “I love your costume. You sure do fit in with the whole primal and prey thing.”
And that made the damn panic creep up again. She hadn’t thought of the fox as prey. It was a predatory creature, just smaller than some of the others. It seemed others saw it differently.
Kat looked past the table and locked eyes with a man across the room, one who wore a black mask with horns and a smirk. He crooked his finger to call her over. She let out a sigh full of want. “I’ll be right back…” She pulled away before Sunny could answer, leaving Sunny with the plate of food and no backup.
A pit started in Sunny’s stomach at the way Kat had followed the demand, at the memory of how many times Sunny had done the same thing, when she’d dropped everything she’d wanted and done as she’d been told. She remembered a crooked finger, a silent demand that came a split second before anger, before violence.
It sickened her, threatened to drag her under so many worse memories.
“There you are, little fox.” The devil-man from earlier came up from behind Sunny, his voice already tattooed on her brain.
She jumped, those overactive nerves of hers taking over, struggling to separate him from her past.
He’s just a person. You’re fine.
Right, because telling herself that made it reality… Saying it didn’t make her safe, didn’t do anything.
Still, she turned toward him, her shoulders hunched forward in on herself to make herself smaller. “Hello.”
This is why you came. Don’t chicken out now. Just one night.
He smiled, but she couldn’t shake the way her brain screamed danger at her. Whether he was actually dangerous or not didn’t really matter. Her body had decided, and it wasn’t listening to her. It went off history, off what she knew to be true—men, especially dominant men, couldn’t be trusted.
“Why don’t you come on over to the couch there? We can have a talk, get to know each other. I’ve been watching you since you came in, and you look amazing.”
Sunny tried to swallow down her fears, her doubts, but they stuck in her throat. She shifted her weight from foot to foot, unable to shake all the ‘hell no’ swirling in her head. No matter how many times she reminded herself that she was here for this, she couldn’t get herself to agree, to even want to agree.
He wrapped his fingers around her wrist, the one with the cuff, and tugged gently. “Come on, little sub, I don’t bite too hard—at least not unless you beg.”
Sickness churned in her stomach, the room becoming stifling, the air thinning.
He didn’t yank, didn’t tighten his fingers to the point of pain, didn’t show any sort of violence or anger, yet she couldn’t catch her breath. She couldn’t stop herself from seeing him as the devil he had dressed as.
She followed, her body frozen and unable to fight back, to just yank and tell him no. What the hell was wrong with her?
Fear. It was what was always wrong with her, that beast she couldn’t kill no matter what she did. Even when she thought she had it under control, it always reared its ugly, unwelcome head and turned her into this.
“I saw you the second you walked in,” devil-man said. “You look like prey, and I am a man who likes to chase.”
“I’m a man, Sunshine, and I have needs.” The voice that haunted her dreams came back to her. It ran in her head as clear as if the monster from her past stood there right then, and the room blurred.
Just when she was sure she’d pass out, that she’d fall to the floor there in front of everyone, a large hand grasped devil-man’s shoulder.
It wasn’t violent, but it was a clear message of stop. “Hold up there, Jordan.”
Devil-man—Jordan?—paused and turned toward the man who’d spoken, someone who made Sunny want to pull even farther back. This new man was tall, his body lean but strong. He wore a silver mask that covered his eyes, and his lips were pressed into a tight, unhappy line.
She did not want that sort of displeasure directed her way.
In fact, right then, going off with Jordan sounded like one hell of a good idea. His lean build would do far less damage than what this new man could dish out. It was like being faced with two monsters and picking the one with the smaller teeth.
“Yeah?” Jordan asked, his tone confused but not upset.
“Does she look like she wants to go with you?”
Jordan tipped his lips down, then took another slow look at Sunny, his expression lacking anger. “She didn’t say no.”
“Sure she did, just not with her lips. Come on now, take a better look at her.”
Jordan peered down—as if just noticing the way Sunny were as far back as her arm would allow, how she leaned away and not toward him—and released her instantly. “I’m so sorry,” he said, his voice softening and losing the sharpness it had before. It seemed he’d slipped from his Dom role. “Without the eyes, I have some trouble reading cues, I guess.”
Silver released Jordan. “We’ll talk about it later.”
“Of course.” Jordan looked at Sunny, somehow managing to have shrunk from the devil-man he’d been to a regular person, deflating before her eyes. “I’m really sorry, Miss. Can I get you something? A drink?”
Sunny shook her head, afraid her voice wouldn’t work if she said anything. Even though he wasn’t the monster he’d been moments before, her body had already thrown itself headfirst into panic.
“Why don’t you go grab her something warm and sweet, Jordan, as an apology,” the new man said.
Jordan nodded and rushed off, leaving Sunny there with only the man in the mask, the one who made Jordan look more like a cub. “Hey there, fox. Breathing helps, you know?”
The words struck Sunny as entirely asinine, until she realized…she wasn’t breathing. She gasped in a breath, and right away her head cleared some. Just how long was I holding it?
“Better,” the man said, then gestured toward a couch near the back, but one in view of the rest of the room. “You want to sit down before you fall down?”
I never should have come. She never should have tried to prove she was better, or that she didn’t need this. Why couldn’t she have stayed in the nice, safe little rut she’d spent years creating?
“I should go,” Sunny said, her voice so soft that she doubted he could hear her over the music.