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Sophie finally finds the courage to reenter the Atlanta BDSM scene after extricating herself from an abusive relationship. At a local munch, she meets Dave, a funny, laid-back erotic photographer. When she sees him again later at a dungeon, Sophie is surprised by her strong attraction, and nervous about starting a new relationship, but Dave eases her fears. They embark on a sexy, thrilling D/s relationship and Sophie finds healing and fulfillment in Dave's arms.
But Sophie is still haunted by nightmares of her past. On a dark night in the woods with Dave and his friend Ryan, frightening memories overtake her. She knows that in order to move on, she must uncover the tragedy that haunts her subconscious.
Sophie's quest for answers brings her face-to- face with her previous tormentor. She finds herself once more in the deep woods, not only fighting for answers . . . but also for her life.
Dave stretched in bed, pushing the covers down. Saturday morning. Nowhere to be, nothing to do. What to do? Masturbate? Listen to music? Read the stack of photography mags piled up beside the bed? A whine issued from the depths of the comforter as he shifted.
“Shove over, Cerby. Big baby.” Dave lifted the covers to find black, luminous eyes staring back at him. “That’s right, I called you a baby. You’re a disgrace to your breed. Whatever your breed is.”
He reached down to scratch his dog’s ears. Although he was named after the mythological dog Cerberus, this Cerberus was no three-headed, ferocious defender of the Underworld. More like a shaggy black overgrown lap dog that needed a bath. Well, the name seemed like a good idea at the time. Cerby crept closer and licked Dave on the face.
“You need a bath, you mutt. I might want to bring home a girl from the play party tonight. And if I do…” He fixed the dog with a look. “If I do, you will behave yourself. No barking, no licking. I’m the only one who licks the girls. Do you understand?”
He chuckled at Cerby’s forlorn look, then scratched him under the chin. “I think that last girl would have come back if you hadn’t made such a nuisance of yourself.”
Cerberus gave a comic half-groan of disappointment, as if he understood Dave’s words. Perhaps he did. Dave had picked him up on a photo shoot, an abandoned puppy skulking around a deserted train yard, starved and riddled with parasites. The girl he’d been photographing had shrieked with horror that Dave would even touch him. Fetish models. Bunch of narcissistic babies. If he’d left the dog there, it would have haunted his dreams. The vet bills had been astronomical, but a small price to pay for the adoring loyalty he enjoyed now. Within months, the medium-sized puppy had grown into a hundred-pound ball of reckless playfulness and fierce love.
But man, he was a bed hog. “Shove over, Cerb. I mean it.”
Cerberus stuck his muzzle into Dave’s armpit, then withdrew it with a snort.
“Well, I haven’t showered yet. Anyway, I asked you nicely for some personal space.”
Dave turned over and looked at the clock. Mid-morning already. It was summer in Atlanta, and much hotter than he’d ever expected it to get, even in a place that called itself “Hotlanta.” He’d almost rather be back in Boston. It was fucking hot.
He’d moved south last winter, looking for warmer climes and lovely women to photograph. He’d found both. Southern girls were sweet all over. The way they talked was sweet, the way they dressed was sweet, the way they fucked was sweet.
But his last subject, Lara, hadn’t been too fond of Cerberus and had declined to sleep over. Too bad, because he’d been attracted to her. But love him, love his dog. He’d thanked her for her time and shown her the door. His proffered kiss had ended up a peck on her cheek.
No matter. There was another munch today, and a play party afterward. He’d found a welcoming home in the Atlanta BDSM scene. Plenty of fun, plenty of girls to chat with, and plenty of would-be models who were willing to bare themselves for his thriving fetish-photography business. And later bare themselves for some fun. What was it about guys and cameras? Since he’d picked his up, he’d had women like he’d never had in his life.
He thought maybe it had to do with the exposure. With the eye of the camera, and the eye of the photographer. It was one thing to look at a pretty woman. It was another thing altogether to turn your camera on her, to capture lust or sex. Or fear. Shyness or boldness. Who ever knew? Each photograph he took surprised him in some way.
He rolled out of bed and shuffled to the bathroom. His shoulder-length brown hair was a tousled mess. He brushed it back, trying to tame the wavy strands, then shrugged and turned on the shower. He looked back in the mirror. Yes, it was definitely the eyes. He narrowed his, then widened them, pulling faces. He tried to look soulful and deep.
Oh, yeah, slick. Cerb snorted again from the door.
Dave flexed his arms and did a curl to check out his abs. He was nothing spectacular in the looks department, but his body was pretty tight, and girls always commented on his hazel eyes. My eyes see more.
Whatever. He could pretend all he wanted that he was an artist, that he was making high art, but photographing pompous D-types and their preening, precious submissives was hardly going to win him a Pulitzer Prize. He had won a Hot Flesh award last year. Not really something to write home about. But the award and publicity had solidified his name in the business, and bills were no longer a problem.
No, he had a good life, he thought, stepping under the cool water and letting it roll over his shoulders and down his back. It felt wonderful in the sluggish heat of the Saturday morning. He felt himself waking up, coming to life. He would have to drag Cerby into the shower and get him cleaned up too. If he was lucky enough to bring a girl home, he didn’t want to be making excuses for his huge, overly pungent pet. He wanted her to spend the night. He loved to wake up next to a beautiful, drowsy woman, cuddling under light, crisp sheets.
And what cuddling usually led to—he loved that even more.
* * * * *
Dave fielded a hug from “Special One,” and another shortly afterwards from “Pretty Punkin,” who was, helpfully, quite a punk. It was hard to keep the lifestyle names straight sometimes, much less the real names. The girls got mad when you forgot their real names, but when they called themselves by made-up nicknames at most of the social gatherings, it was hard to keep it all straight. Add a couple beers at your average play party and there were lots of opportunities to offend.
The men also had their scene names. Dave had never come up with a good one, not for lack of trying. All the best ones were taken. “Lord Pain,” “Gentle Dom,” “Master Disaster,” or Dave’s personal favorite, “Dick Hammer.” There was even a “Master Dave” already in Atlanta. Not that Dave considered himself a Master of anything. He was a garden-variety perv, a playful sadist. Somehow “Playful Sadistic Pervert” didn’t have that certain élan the women were looking for. So he went by Dave.
Another big hug from, oh God. What was her name? The one who was into needles. That had been an interesting session. And Lara was there, eyeing him from across the room. She made no move to come see him, and she didn’t crack a smile.
He got the message loud and clear and found a place on the other side of the room near the moderator. He went to the buffet and came back to eat, making small talk with a young, petite Domme and her little boi. After a while, he offered them his card. They would make great subjects. They were both photogenic as hell, and judging from their conversation, open to a variety of kinky play.
His eyes returned to Lara. She was definitely running cold. Ah, well. She’d seemed a little too controlled and inhibited for his tastes anyway. He liked to take women out of their comfort zones, see them gasp and widen their eyes as he took them to a place they’d never gone before, but a place they liked very much. He liked to give women erotic pain, push their boundaries, although he made sure safe words were in place first. He was all about negotiating.
But he still felt guilty at times. Sometimes he wondered if what he was doing was wrong, even with safe, sane, and consensual niceties in place. Even if a girl enjoyed it, did it harm her to be hurt, pinched, spanked? Shamed? Humiliated? What if he took her out to dinner beforehand? Did that make it more acceptable?
His tastes hadn’t always been so extreme. He used to be perfectly content just to slap a girl on the ass and fuck her vanilla-style. It wasn’t until he’d delved deeper into the lifestyle, until he started photographing others’ scenes, that his own threshold of perversion began to ramp up. He could still be vanilla if he had to, he could still turn it on and off. Barely. Which was why he very much preferred to go to the munches around Atlanta and try to meet kinky women. So many of them were already paired up, though.
He was taking another bite of chicken when he heard the room go silent. Not totally silent, but silent for a munch as crowded as this one. He looked around to see what was going on, and then he saw the focus of all the attention. She stood just inside the door, arms crossed over her chest. She looked as if she didn’t want to be there. He looked around to see who she belonged to, who had made her come to the munch against her will.
“Sophie,” said the moderator. “Come sit here.” Jerry pointed to an empty chair between him and Dave.
So she was with him? Interesting. Jerry was in his mid-60s, and this woman looked twenty-five if she was a day. Strange that he’d never seen her at any of the munches or parties. If he’d seen her, he would have remembered. She was gorgeous. Black, black hair. Blue-black. Blacker even than Cerberus’s fur. It fell to her shoulders and across her face like a curtain. She had a pale, almost leonine face that gave her a wild, intent look, especially since she was frowning. He knew at once that he wanted to photograph her. He had to photograph her.
But everyone stared as if she had the three heads of Cerberus’s mythological namesake. Stared at her to the point of rudeness, stared to the point that Dave wanted to tell them to cut it out. To the point where he wanted to stand up and shield her from their eyes, because she looked as if she didn’t want to be stared at. She was blushing when she fell into the chair next to him. She didn’t have any food, just a drink. Now that she sat by him, he saw how small she was. She was so perfectly proportioned that her small size wasn’t apparent until she was right next to him. She was probably around five feet tall, and he was six-four, give or take. His legs crowded hers under the table.
“Sorry,” he said as their knees bumped. She looked up at him and any further words went still in his throat. My God. Her eyes. It was all about the eyes. What was that saying? Eyes are a window to the soul. He gazed into her soul and, God fucking help him, he couldn’t look away. It was only a moment, a millisecond that he saw her there before some shutter clicked closed and she looked away.
“Sorry,” he said again. He rubbed his hands on his jeans. His palms were sweating. She gave a small smile, staring at the table. Look up at me again. Look up. Blue, blue eyes. Violet. Pale violet-blue eyes, and a soul full of raw, intense emotion. Jerry patted her hand as conversation started up again in the room.
Don’t stare. Everyone’s staring had upset her, so he couldn’t stare at her now, no matter how much he wanted to. He shifted his plate over. Why were the munches always so crowded? His knee knocked hers again and she shifted away.
“I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay.” She shrugged. No, she wasn’t Jerry’s sub. Aside from a glance or two in her direction, Jerry had given her no more attention, and she held herself away from him almost defensively. In fact, she hunched herself into the smallest area possible and kept her eyes down.
Dave glanced around the room. People were still looking. He considered asking something silly like, “So, who did you kill?” but thought better of it. Instead he held out his hand and said, “Hi, I’m Dave.”
After a short pause, she took his hand. “Sophie.”
She didn’t meet his eyes, and the way she said her name sounded like, please don’t talk to me anymore. Part of him wanted to comply, but part of him was too fascinated and curious. He didn’t even know for sure she was a sub, although he hoped she was. He leaned back and tried again to engage her.
“Aren’t you hungry?”
“No. Not really.”
He had the sudden impulse to feed her something from his plate, or offer to get her something. He pictured a poster on the MARTA train. FEED THE SUBS, with an image of poor Sophie and her violet-blue eyes. Jesus, she’d probably eaten a late lunch or something. What was wrong with him? He couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt so stupid and bothered over a girl.
“So, Sophie. Is that your real name, or the name you use in the scene?”
“It’s my real name. I don’t really have a scene name.”
“I don’t either. I mean, not that there’s anything wrong with having one. It’s just too schizo for me. I’ve answered to Dave for too long now. Although I did toy with the name ‘Bringer of Pain.’”
She made a small sound, and then smiled. He realized the sound had been a laugh. He took it as encouragement and forged ahead.
“I also thought about ‘Spider Dave.’ You know, instead of Spider Man? Except then girls might think I was into spider play or something, and that doesn’t exactly have them beating down the door. I’m not into spider play, by the way,” he added as he saw her shift closer to Jerry. “And ‘Dave the Flav’ was another one, you know, like Flavor Flav? I was drunk when I thought of that. Actually, I was drunk when I thought of both of those. I don’t know why I try to think up BDSM handles when I’m drunk, but I do.” She laughed again, and he knew it was because he was acting like an idiot, but he didn’t care.
“I like Dave better than any of those,” she said. Her smile was so enthralling, wide with gorgeous straight white teeth. Dave’s camera finger twitched.
“Yeah, me too.” Idiot. Is this the best conversation you can come up with?
Jerry turned to her then and patted her hand.
“Sophie. I’m so glad you’re here. We’ve missed you.”
She looked down and bit her lip. “Well…”
“Are you coming out later, to the play party at the Studio?”
“I might. I’m not sure.”
“Are you seeing anyone new?” Jerry’s eyes flicked toward Dave before darting back to Sophie’s spectacular rack. She made a negative sound, shaking her head and looking out at the other attendees.
“Well, all in good time,” said Jerry, tearing his gaze from her chest. “There’s no hurry to get back out there.”
“No.” She clasped her hands together on the table. “I really just came out to see what everyone’s been up to.”
Jerry launched into some of the local goings-on, and she listened, sipping her drink. Since she was distracted, Dave took the opportunity to stare. God, her hair was so black. Her skin so pale. Her lips so red. Holy fuck, he was sitting next to Snow White. And she wore white—a slim fitting T-shirt over dark jeans.
Would she let him photograph her? What would he see in the dark room when he developed her photos? What would he see in her eyes? He would have to use film with her. Digital would be too cold, too stark. He would have to use film and chemicals to draw shades of meaning from the planes of her face, from the depths of her blue-black hair, from those eyes…those eyes… He would…he would…
Jesus, she was leaving. Her knee bumped his again as she pushed back her chair. He had to stand to let her pass. He hoped she was just going to get some food. He watched her stalk out the same way she’d stalked in, her eyes shuttered, her chin held high. She was subjected to the same silent stares. No, she wasn’t coming back.
He turned to Jerry. “Nice girl.”
“Yes. A very sweet sub. Been in the community for several years now.”
Dave waited for him to say more, but Jerry’s voice trailed off and he turned his attention to someone else. Dave finished his food and made his way to a group of friends in the opposite corner, skirting Lara, who frowned at him. No, he didn’t feel like talking to her now.
“Darling, come give me a kiss.” Madame M was a statuesque Domme he’d photographed on several occasions. “I see you met the little bitch. She surfaces every so often.”
“M!” Veronica, an older, motherly woman, scolded her. “That’s not very kind of you.”
“Well, that’s what she is!”
“She’s not the only bitch in this group,” said a Dom named Clark, frowning at M. “Sheathe your claws. I think it took a lot of courage for her to show up here.”
“That girl I was talking to? With the black hair?” asked Dave, confused. “She didn’t seem like a bitch.”
“Sophie,” said Madame M, waving her hand in irritation. “Too good to play by the rules. You know it’s true, Clark.”
“The jury is out on whether it was her or him who broke the rules,” Clark retorted.
“It was him,” Veronica interjected. Veronica was a long-time slave with a soft heart and a surprisingly sharp tongue. “He was the one who was all about no limits, and that consensual non-consent nonsense.”
“And she was the one who agreed to it,” said Madame M. “She was the one who stayed with him when everyone tried to help her. That was her decision. She made her bed.”
“What are you talking about?” asked Dave. “I’m lost.”
Clark turned to him. “Last year Sophie started seeing a man named…what was his name?”
“Depraved,” said Veronica with a frown.
“Yes, Depraved. No one knew his real name. Anyway, he was an abuser. A fake. We all told her. We all knew what was going on. They came together to the munches, the play parties, and the things he did to her—the way he treated her—”
“Sophie let him treat her that way,” M said with a wag of her finger. “We tried to step in. I did step in on several occasions, and was told by Sophie to fuck off.”
Clark shook his head. “It was a terrible situation. One night at Studio Erotica, he went too far with her. Master Lawrence and Lady Marie called the police, and still Sophie did nothing. Wouldn’t make a statement, wouldn’t press charges. Nothing changed. The police started showing up at all the local fetish events, and to any play parties we advertised online. They were always hovering around because of this thing with Sophie and Depraved.”
“She’s just an attention-whore,” Madame M said. “Before Depraved, there was that other one, you remember?”
“But he wasn’t as bad,” said Veronica.
“Well, he was bad enough. Anyway,” M continued. “eventually Sophie and Depraved were not welcome at the munches and parties anymore. They were blacklisted from Studio Erotica. Lawrence and Marie had to do it, or the police would have found a way to shut them down.”
They all fell silent. Dave looked from one face to the other. “Then what? What happened?”
“Well,” said M. “They disappeared. We didn’t know. None of us knew what was going on until it was too late. Sophie’s parents came sniffing around, saying their daughter hadn’t contacted them in weeks. Again, the cops were all over us. No one knew who this ‘Depraved’ character was, where he lived, where he worked. No one had seen them, but the cops were at every venue, at every event looking for Sophie. Sophie’s father is some high-placed local businessman or something—”
“That wasn’t the point, that the cops were everywhere,” said Clark. “So you had to answer a few questions! What about her?” He turned to Dave. “They found Sophie when she turned up in the emergency room. She had been abused for some time. Drugged.” He went silent, searching for words. “Broken. She was a mess. She might have died.” He scowled at M. “No one would have asked to be treated like that. So calling her a bitch—”
“She was a bitch. She made trouble for a lot of people—”
“I cried,” said Veronica. “I felt so guilty.”
“Exactly.” Madame M frowned. “We all felt guilty, but it was none of our faults. And when she failed again and again to report him, she endangered every other submissive in Atlanta, because he didn’t go away. He hasn’t gone away. She never did bring any charges against him, although as far as I know, he’s gone to ground. He couldn’t come anywhere near any munch or club in Atlanta without getting beaten to a bloody pulp, that’s for sure.”
Dave thought that sounded like a good time, beating to a bloody pulp a man who had put Sophie in the hospital. A man who had done it in the name of BDSM. A “sadist.” That’s probably what this “Depraved” imagined himself. A kinky sadist, just like Dave, only he hadn’t known when to stop. He remembered how Jerry, a “daddy dom”-type player, had scowled at him as he’d chatted Sophie up. Jerry had probably thought, oh, no, she can’t fall into the hands of another sadist. Not on my watch. But there were sadists, and then there were sociopaths.
“So why do you think she came back?” Dave asked.
“Lonely, maybe?” offered Veronica.
“God, I can’t imagine why she would show her face here,” said M with a snort. “You saw the reception she got. Just needs more attention, I suppose.”
Well, she had gotten Dave’s attention. She definitely had his attention now.