Stepping into the spare but elegant interior of the exclusive BDSM club above the famous Paris nightclub Wicked Pleasures, every muscle in Vahid’s body tensed. Deep in the core of his dragon heart, revulsion flared at what he was about to do. Still, his body and his psyche needed the release. He’d become too tense, too crabby, too pain-ridden. Without the release, the pain would become unbearable and his control would suffer.
Garrick Forrester appeared before Vahid had taken more than a few steps into the lobby. While the master had never done anything to make Vahid uncomfortable, the steel in his eyes was unnerving. Tall and angular, the Magia had run Beyond Pleasure for countless decades. Certainly, Vahid remembered hearing Garrick’s name whispered when he’d spent a year living in France as an exchange student. His interest in BDSM had pretty much bloomed along with his puberty that year and he’d found out all he could about Beyond Pleasure and the Forrester brothers.
“Welcome back, Vahid.” The low tones of Garrick’s voice gave away his status as master. Casually commanding, but with a mesmerizing note that would have been beyond compelling to any submissive. The tone never worked on Vahid. He’d never been a sub.
Falling into step with Garrick, as the master turned and began to walk down a thickly carpeted corridor, Vahid noticed the unusual quiet of the club. Often, when he came to Beyond Pleasure, the crack of a whip and low moans could be heard.
“Slow night?” he asked the older man.
Garrick’s dark grey eyes flicked over him. “New soundproofing,” he replied with a slight smile.
Pushing open a door at the end of the corridor, Garrick ushered Vahid into a luxurious locker room. “Your things are where they usually are. You’ve been given the Red Room. I believe you know the way.” Garrick raised a brow and Vahid nodded.
“Yes. I do. Thanks.”
With a nod, Vahid turned away, crossing the room to his personal locker. Placing his palm on the front of the locker, he waited for the spell-lock to sense his presence and open the narrow metal door. It took a few seconds, but the door popped open and Vahid reached in, pulling out the trappings of his life as a Dominant.
He changed swiftly into the leather outfit he preferred when having a scene with a new sub. He reached for the whip’s handle, letting it warm to his palm. He stepped out of the locker room and made his way to the red room. Because he’d been there countless times before, his feet automatically knew the path.
A few steps from the door, the strong scent of baby powder assailed his nose. Startled, he stopped in the center of the corridor, sniffing. The baby powder scent intensified and he stiffened. A mixture of astonishment and rage swept through him. Turning, he sought the direction of the scent. He twisted around and his gaze landed on a plain wood paneled door some eight feet away.
Silently, Garrick appeared again, his face set in harsh lines. He strode over to the door and pushed it open, moving with a speed that surprised Vahid. The instant the door cracked open, the scent of baby powder became overwhelming. Following Garrick into the room, Vahid saw a thickly muscled man dressed in a loin cloth and wielding a barbed cat o’ nine tails. His sub hung from chains attached to the leather cuffs on her wrists, her feet restrained by a spreader bar. Nearly naked, her back a mass of bloody ribbons, her blonde head lolled on her neck, indicating her unconsciousness. Fury streaked through him and he reached for the man’s whip arm, but Garrick beat him to it.
The master of Beyond Pleasure ripped the whip from the man’s hand and tossed it down, ordering, “Out! Do not show your face here again. It is your duty to know when your sub has had enough.”
“She didn’t use her safe word,” the man whined, cowering away from Garrick.
“No excuses.” Garrick’s grim expression didn’t change, and the man slunk out of the room.
Vahid strode over to the unconscious woman, carefully cupping her face in his hands and avoiding the mess that was her back. His chest tightened painfully as he stared down at her beautiful face and softly breathed her name. “Emily.”
Three Years Ago
On the second day of the second week of her new job, Emily got a whiff of allspice. Her nose twitched as the scent grew stronger, smelling like a freshly baked pumpkin pie. She knew what day it was, but glanced at the calendar anyway. July third. Hot dogs and barbeque ribs season, not pumpkin pie.
Two deep voices rumbled in the corridor outside her office. She tensed. She had yet to meet her cousin and new boss, Sean Antaeus. They had corresponded and spoken on the phone numerous times over the past few years, but had never met. So far, she had met both of his brothers, but not his sister. The younger Antaeus men were highly intelligent, obviously talented, and beyond good looking. She could only imagine how gorgeous the oldest Antaeus was. Their dark beauty made her feel pale and insignificant.
Swallowing hard, she fought back her fear and self doubt, armoring herself with a cool façade. She stepped to her office door and peeked out. Two men stood about five feet from her door with their backs to her. Both had black hair. One was tall and lean with a hawk like profile. The other man seemed built like a tank. His head was some three or four inches below the tall man’s yet his shoulders were just as wide if not wider. Emily could sense the thick muscles bunching and rippling beneath his clothes as he moved.
Riveted, she stared at them, the scent of allspice growing stronger by the second. Her pulse began to race and her heart pounded. Dear gods. Something inside her went completely haywire. The taller man spoke and his words caused her spine to stiffen.
“Have you met our new head of finance? Alfred swears she’s a genius.”
The shorter man snorted rudely. “I haven’t met her, but her reputation precedes her,” he replied in a nasty tone.
His voice wafted over her like a fingertip stroking her pulse points. She shivered. He had the most beautiful voice. It slipped along her skin like a silk shift, cool and rich, evocative… Something inside her snapped and she felt an insistent tugging as she breathed in the allspice scent. It came from him… the man with the voice… the shorter one…
“I’ve heard she could freeze the balls off a brass monkey,” he went on. “No emotion. No personality. No tits.”
A stabbing pain ripped through Emily’s chest. The man whose rich scent roused every cell in her body thought she had no personality or emotion. She almost choked on the gall that rose in her throat. Thoughtless words. Cruel words. By the gods, he didn’t even know her!
“Stop it, Vahid. That’s no way to talk about a colleague you haven’t even met yet,” the tall man admonished sternly. “Listening to gossip doesn’t become you either. You’ll get farther in this world making your own judgment calls rather than relying on the observations of secretaries and clerks.”
The muscular man made another rude sound. “Yeah, well, I’ve heard enough to know that Miss Emily Carrington from her rich, red dragon family is just as stuck up as I thought she’d be,” he countered. “Maire dropped something in front of her and she just stepped over it and kept on walking. What a fucking stick up her ass popsicle. She probably has no mate because no man’s willing to risk sticking his cock into a block of dry ice.”
The instant the man said ‘mate’, Emily froze. Pain exploded in her chest and her head. With a little cry, she turned from the door, pushing it shut and stumbling across the huge corner office to the plate glass window. She stared unseeingly at the coastline that stretched for miles in either direction. Her eyes filled with tears; she willed them back, struggling to regain the cool, haughty expression she usually hid behind.
The scent of allspice had been so strong! That alone should have given the truth away. The tugging in her chest. The way his voice sent her senses into a tailspin… The man in the corridor was her mate. Vahid— the shorter one who had been so scathing— not the tall one. The taller man must have been Sean Antaeus. The other man could only be his Chief Operating Officer, Vahid Delrey.
Emily drew a shuddering breath. She’d cultivated the cold, businesslike exterior for a reason. No one had ever penetrated her armor and discovered the reason for its presence. She had always thought one day she would meet her mate, and he would take one look at her and know what she hid in her heart, despite her icy exterior. She blinked back tears as her dreams shattered. Vahid Delrey might be her mate, but he had no clue who she was. He wasn’t even open-minded enough to listen to his boss about her.
She stared out the window at the marine layer blanketing the coastline. She leaned her face against the glass, a chill settling into her. Her future lay with a man who would never appreciate her, never be able to see beyond the façade she showed the world. Why had Fate dealt her yet another painful blow? Didn’t she warrant even one of her dreams coming true?
A knock sounded on her door and she forced the icy mask of her public demeanor into place as she swallowed her sobs and turned around. Sean and Vahid entered, polite smiles on their faces. Actually, Sean’s smile was more than polite. The black dragon seemed especially pleased to meet her.
“You must be Emily,” he said striding forward to shake her hand briskly. His amber eyes flashed with pleasure. “Alfred’s told me so much about you. Welcome to Antaeus International.”
“You’re Sean Antaeus.” She smiled, knowing the movement of her mouth didn’t match the expression in her eyes. She kept herself firmly guarded against both men.
Her new boss nodded, ignoring her coolness. He gestured toward the shorter man. “This is Vahid Delrey, the Chief Operating Officer. Officially, I am your boss and you report to me. If I’m not available, you go to Vahid or my brother Declan,” Sean told her.
She inclined her head, knowing that the movement seemed arrogant and regal. Her eyes met Vahid’s and he murmured a greeting, as he raised his hand to meet hers. The instant their palms met, fire rippled through Emily, threatening her icy outward calm. Her dragon clawed at her, wanting Vahid. In his ink dark eyes, she saw a recognition, a spark. His warm fingers caressed her hand. She fought her dragon for control, ruthlessly taking it from the beast who wanted to pounce on Vahid and bathe him in her dragonfire.
“How nice to meet you, Mr. Delrey,” she murmured and pulled her hand free of his.
A slightly bereft expression flickered in his eyes. “Vahid,” he said absently, his nostrils flaring.
She wondered how she smelled to him. Every dragon’s mate had a unique scent. For Emily, Vahid smelled of allspice. She could tell he’d scented her, knew she was his mate. She wished she knew how she smelled to him.
“Baby powder,” he murmured softly as if he’d heard her thoughts.
She jerked, taking a step back. Turning her attention to Sean, she spent the next ten minutes discussing her new duties with him while Vahid stood just out of her range of vision, completely silent.
When they turned to leave, Vahid glanced at her, and she saw the question in his black eyes.
I’m not what you want or need, Vahid Delrey. You said it yourself. I have no tits, nor warmth. And no interest whatsoever in being the mate of a man with such narrow-minded views. On the other hand, you’re going to have to learn to work with me no matter how much your dragon wants me. I’m just bitch enough to be amused watching you work on that.
Vahid’s eyes widened as he heard her thoughts. Cruelly, she turned her back on him, and shut him out of her head, the shards of her shattered heart ripping at her from the inside. Now, that her dreams of one day finding happiness had been ground into dust, she had to figure out how to survive because she knew the pain of being without her mate would grow with each passing day.
As the door closed behind Vahid, Emily slumped against the cold glass of the big window. Palms and face pressed to the smooth coolness, she stared down a dozen floors to the street below. If she didn’t think her dragon would shift and save her, she’d just jump.
She laughed softly. Today was nothing. She hurt, mostly from the loss of her illusions, but it was minor compared to what she now faced and what she had condemned Vahid to. In a few years, when the pain became unbearable, she might have to seek the option of suicide. It might be better than letting circumstances drive her slowly insane.
Pushing off from the glass, she went to her desk and pulled out her cell phone. She stared at the contact list, her chest aching. Then she dialed. Shaking, she fought for control as a click indicated that the call had been picked up on the other end.
“I didn’t think I’d ever see you here again.”
The man’s voice was dispassionate, cool, yet held a note of curiosity.
“I just found my mate and blew him off,” she said tersely, trying to keep her voice from shaking with fear and pain. “You’ll be seeing a lot more of me now.”
The man on the other end of the line sighed heavily, his regret palpable. “Em, I don’t advise this. Make up with him and mate. You really don’t want to travel this path.”
The soft warning hardened Emily’s resolve. “I was meant to fuck up my life. You already knew this about me, Dave,” she growled harshly, a little laugh escaping her. “What’s one more punishment in a lifetime of them?”
“Em, you’re not thinking. This isn’t right. You shouldn’t come back here.” Dave’s voice sounded urgent.
“It’s where I belong, Dave. I was wrong to think I could ever escape. I’m damaged goods and I always will be.” Her voice was a soft whisper, a bare thread of sound. “Make sure there is someone who can accommodate me. I’ll see you at seven.”
Emily hung up and glanced out the window again. This time she could see her reflection, beautiful, cool, poised. Every inch the executive. Inside, her dragon moaned in pain.