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Delilah Gregory is an opera superstar, enchanting the world with her soaring voice and voluptuous form. When her long-time friend, Declan, asks her to perform at his wedding, she can't refuse, and heads to Mullardoch Manor in Scotland. She's looking forward to finding a Dom to play with while she's there, although with the demands of her career, and still recovering from her ex's betrayal, the last thing on earth she's looking for is an actual relationship.
Bastian Dean is a rock star, playing to sold-out stadiums worldwide. His bedroom tastes have always been on the wild side, and the only way he can find satisfaction is when he has a bound submissive begging for his touch. Unlike most rock stars, he keeps his dalliances to bona fide members of the Dungeon Fantasy Club – and as far away from the tabloids as possible. When he meets the ethereal beauty Delilah at the manor, Bastian is determined to enjoy the beautiful, submissive woman's bounty.
Delilah is stunned by the ecstasy she finds within Bastian's arms. She doesn't even like the man much – aside from what he can make her feel even as he disciplines her bare bottom. But despite her misgivings about him, what starts out as a bit of fun and play in the dungeon soon turns into a relationship, where Delilah finds herself healing under Bastian's passionate touch.
When the demands of her career and a threat from her past intervene, Bastian must use every note in his arsenal to convince Delilah that theirs is a duet worth singing. But can she be convinced to trust him with her heart?
Publisher's Note: While this is the sixth book in the Dungeon Fantasy Club series, it – like all the others – can be enjoyed as a standalone. This story contains explicit erotic and BDSM scenes, so if such material is likely to offend you, please do not read it.
"I'm taking some time off," Delilah said, praying for patience as she declined the performance offer.
"But Miss Gregory, we want you for Die Zauberflöte. It's a one-night performance in Cardiff at the end of January." Benjamin Sneademeier's voice came out as a whine. It clobbered her with guilt. Inhaling a deep, steady breath, she knew she couldn't accept it no matter how much she wanted to help him. The timing was off. It wasn't like she hadn't rejected shows before. Delilah wished she could partake in the concert, but she couldn't return to the stage. Not yet. The thought of stepping onto the darkened stage filled her with dread and squelched the air from her lungs.
How could she sing when she could barely breathe?
Delilah needed time away to heal, otherwise she'd think of nothing but Ethan's betrayal and parting words. Whoever said words couldn't be used as weapons had lived in an insulated bubble—much like she had, until recently. Because she knew better than most that mere words could slice you open until you were broken. Taking another calming breath, she knew she couldn't back down from her stance, even for a friend.
"I understand, truly, and I wish I could help you out, but I'm not available until the spring. If you like, we can arrange a show for a later date," she conceded, smoothing a hand over her jeans pant leg.
"What does Ethan think about your taking time off?"
Delilah had expected the question. She shouldn't be surprised by it in the least, really. So why did it feel felt like one of her arteries had been ripped open?
"As he is no longer my manager," or anything else for that matter, she left unsaid, "I couldn't say. I have to let you go, Ben. I will let you know when I'm available."
Delilah ended the call, frustrated over the conversation, over her life in general, and swore at the guilt gnawing at her over turning Ben down. Really, it had only been one night he'd asked. Except Delilah was heart sore and burned out, and those didn't lend themselves to standing ovation performances. The mere thought of walking onto the stage suffused her very being with despair. She'd known Ben for years and wished she could help him, but right now, she was taking a step back from the stage. She had to, for her sanity, to retrieve the shattered pieces of what was left of her soul.
Delilah had accepted an offer to perform at a friend's wedding on New Year's Eve, but that had been before she'd walked in on Ethan and that model, before her world had come apart at the seams. Not to mention, Declan had only asked her to perform a song or two. It also gave her an excuse to leave Paris and get away from the press hounding her every move on the streets of the French capital. After that, she was heading home—to the real one on the shores of Lake Tahoe, and taking a break completely, withdrawing from public life for a time.
Delilah planned on burrowing into her home and hibernating there until spring. She owed herself the down time, the chance to re-assess if she still wanted to be on stage anymore. Discover if there was still music left inside her. Because right now, it was tainted thanks to Ethan.
A crisp snow had fallen sometime in the last twenty-four hours, coating the land in a blanket of white. Delilah had always loved it here in the wilds of Scotland. Out of all the cities and countries she'd toured, this place had always soothed her soul. It was one of the reasons why, when Declan had asked her to perform at his wedding, she'd grabbed the chance. This place was blissfully far, far away from the crowds and the hustling demands of her career. Here she could be herself, whoever the hell that was anymore. For so long she'd been on autopilot, allowing Ethan to guide her, trusting that he had her best interests at heart, when that couldn't have been further from the truth.
Her sleek black limo parked at the stairs leading to the front entrance of Mullardoch Manor. Delilah waited for the driver, staring through the tinted window up the smooth, gray stone stairs. Declan had been the first Dom to introduce her to the lifestyle more than eight years ago. At twenty-three, and fresh faced in the world of Opera, lonely and more than a little restless, she'd ended up at a BDSM Club in Italy, where she had quite literally stumbled into his arms. He'd never been more than an instructor when she was a newbie sub, he'd inducted her into the lifestyle over a very pleasant and memorable week—at least, it had been memorable for her.
Delilah admitted, at least to herself, that her heart ached over Declan getting married. Although, in retrospect, it could be due to the stark contrast that Declan had found the one sub he couldn't live without, while Delilah couldn't seem to trust her radar when it came to finding the right Dom. Her emotions were on this helter-skelter etch board because of Ethan. The foundation, the security she thought she had in the insulated bubble of the world she'd created, had been upended, and she no longer knew whom she could trust, whom she could believe in, and more importantly, how she couldn't have seen through all the lies. It made coming to Declan's wedding, performing for it, rather bittersweet, stirring a restless ache and longing in her heart something fierce.
As for dating; with her career, it was not like she could take out an ad announcing what she was looking for or needed from a Dom. Delilah kept her sexual preferences out of the tabloids, otherwise the press would eat her pristine angel image for breakfast. She'd worked too damn hard to build her reputation.
Delilah figured that the best course of action regarding men was swearing off them for the time being. That didn't mean she wouldn't do a scene in the club while she was here, but she didn't want any emotional entanglements. Her heart was too raw, too bruised after Ethan's treatment. Until she had her head on straight, she didn't need emotions clouding her already feeble and rather questionable judgement.
The limo door opened with an efficient swish and a blast of frigid wind, and her driver, Stan McNamara, held out a wrinkled hand to assist her from the vehicle. Delilah graciously accepted his help with a small smile, placing her palm in his—which was surprisingly strong for an older gentleman—and climbed out from the vehicle.
"I'll get your bags for you, Miss Gregory."
"Thank you, Stan."
The great wooden door, emblazoned with Declan's family crest, opened as she approached. Declan, ever the dashing gentleman, stepped out with a welcoming grin on his overtly handsome face. God, did he look good, like he had stepped off the pages of GQ Magazine, with his navy cashmere sweater and black jeans that fitted his tall, muscular form like a second skin. The wind ruffled his dark hair and his electric blue eyes displayed a wealth of friendly camaraderie.
"Dee, you look lovely as ever." He held his long arms open in greeting as she climbed the stairs.
Her affection for him was mutual. Delilah stepped into his embrace without hesitation and returned his tight hug with an internal sigh. There was no zing or sexual connotation, just the feeling of comfort and friendship between them. As much as she doubted her instincts lately, in her heart, she knew Declan was someone she could always count on.
"It's good to see you too," she said as he released her.
"Come, you must be chilled."
Declan escorted her inside the hall with a casual arm around her waist. The blessed warmth inside the foyer infused her icy limbs. It was amazing that, with all the padding she had, the cold could still affect her, but it did. She didn't mind the cold, not really. It didn't mean she wanted to stand outside in it though, either.
"Jared, help the driver get Delilah's luggage while I get her settled with Zoey."
"Hey, Dee." Jared winked at her as he passed. The man really was too beautiful for his own good, with his tawny auburn, shoulder-length hair and brawny form. Womankind damn near worshiped the ground he walked on, and why not? As well as his underwear model good looks, he always had this carnal expression in his dancing eyes that made a woman, whether sub or not, know he was always ready to try anything. Not to mention, he was one hell of an inventive Dom. There had been a few scenes she'd performed with him a couple years prior, and it was safe to say she'd had trouble walking the next day, they'd been so intense. It was too bad that other than sexual preferences, she and Jared had nothing in common, and had always been more friendly than anything else.
"Hey yourself, stud," she said, acknowledging him with a warm smile as he headed out the front door to retrieve her things. She almost sighed out loud as she admired his form. Jared had one hell of a fine backside.
While she might be swearing off entanglements, that didn't mean she didn't enjoy viewing the virile bounty some of the male species presented.
"Zoey's in the library, waiting for some lunch. How was your flight?" Declan said as he steered her past the stairs to the hallway and lift.
"It was just fine. I'm so used to traveling that they all tend to blur."
"I'm sure," Declan said as they stepped into the elevator. "Thanks for doing this, Delilah. I know you've had quite the touring schedule, and I appreciate you taking time out to do this."
The elevator doors opened onto the second floor and they stepped out.
"Of course. I'm so happy for you. And I'm taking some time off until this spring, so it's no problem at all."
"You certainly have earned yourself a respite. It wouldn't have anything to do with you and Ethan splitting up now, would it?"
Needing the insular haven the manor would provide her with this week, she deflected. "No. I'm overdue, that's all."
His electric gaze studied her but he didn't press the matter further. "I'm always here, Dee, if you need me. I can't wait for you to meet my Zoey. I think you two will hit it off smashingly well."
The possessiveness in Declan's voice, the way his deep bass softened and his Scottish burr thickened as he said his fiancée's name, made Delilah know in all of two seconds that he was thoroughly and completely in love. The force and potency of its depth rattled her at her core. Had anyone ever loved her that much?
She knew the answer to that question.
No. Not in all her thirty-one years.
Ethan certainly had not, for all his posturing.
Her parents loved her, and so did her brother. But it wasn't the same.
And with her abysmal skills at detecting the liars and the frauds, Delilah wasn't positive she ever would. How awful was that? To know that because of your career and what you did, you had to suspect everyone's motives, unsure of whether you could trust the person or not. And even when you trusted them, they couldn't be counted on not to end up in bed with a five foot ten, anorexic model who made you look like an elephant in a dress.
Delilah was not, nor would she ever be, a size two. At a size fourteen, she was what polite society called voluptuous, and what those not so nice vultures called 'that fat opera star.' She had hips, thighs, and a set of double Ds that, no matter the amount of exercise or how healthy she ate, didn't seem to want to go anywhere. Which, when you were short, at five foot four, tended to make you look even heavier.
In the past few years, instead of bemoaning her fate at being a bigger girl than what society deemed beautiful, she had fought to love who she was as she was and portray that image on the stage. And for the most part it worked, on stage, at least. There had been cracks in her confidence because of Ethan, but she couldn't lay all the blame for those at his feet. Some had been there long before he arrived, and may never go away. Those cracks made it that much harder to meet the fiancée of a former one-time lover, with her gorgeous, petite frame, and not feel completely self-conscious. Zoey was stunning.
The casually dressed woman glowed, from the top of her chestnut colored hair falling in soft waves down her back, to the soles of her black knee-high boots. Zoey was petite, maybe an inch or so shorter than Delilah, but surprisingly, Zoey wasn't a stick figure. She did have some curves—granted, not the same size or bulk of Delilah's, but the devil was in the details, which Delilah was supremely grateful for.
"You must be Delilah. It's so wonderful to finally meet you." Zoey approached her and Delilah wondered whether Declan had mentioned their one-time fling. She'd never say anything about it. And really, in the lifestyle, you were bound to run into old flames here and there—but the last thing she would ever be was cruel.
Delilah held out her hand in greeting. "It's very nice to meet you, Zoey. Congratulations, you've got a great one here."
"I know it." Zoey politely returned the handshake. "Are you hungry? Mrs. Stewart will be serving lunch here in a bit."
"Lunch would be nice, thank you. Would you want to head to the conservatory while we wait? That way I can run through a few pieces and you can make your selection."
"I would love that. I think I know which one I'd like but…"
"It's much better to hear it in the venue," Delilah said, understanding her point.
"Declan, do you want to join us? I know you have some meetings this week."
"I'd love to but you're right, I have meetings in place that I must see to so we can enjoy our honeymoon."
A look passed between the pair and Delilah felt a pang at the intensity of their bond. Being in their presence, she couldn't help but wish them well. It was a rare and beautiful thing to witness such love and devotion.
"Dee, I will leave you in Zoey's capable hands, and we'll catch up at dinner tonight."
"Sounds like a plan." She smiled at him, keeping up the pretense that everything in her world was sunshine and daisies.
Declan kissed Zoey on the temple and then departed the library.
"Let's go to the conservatory. Declan mentioned you've been to the manor before. How long has it been since you visited?" Zoey asked.
They left the library and headed toward the elevator.
"Yes. A few years ago, but it's been a while since I've had the time to visit with my tour schedule. This is a great home. One of my favorite places in Europe, to be sure," Delilah said, not elaborating as they entered the lift and rode it down to the first floor. She knew her way around the place but let Zoey lead her down the hall. The last time she'd visited had been about five years ago. Before Ethan had maneuvered himself into her orbit. It had been the time she and Jared had done a scene together in the DFC and given partnering a whirl. Fun times, but that was all they'd been.
"I love it here. Just to warn you that you are about to enter the lion's den of chaos. My wedding planners are here, getting both the conservatory and ballroom arranged."
"I'm used to pandemonium so it won't bother me at all. Believe me, there's nothing like a director in a panic minutes before curtain call on Don Quixote," Delilah said wistfully.
"I can't imagine what that must be like."
They entered the conservatory, where an army of workers were in a flurry of activity, transforming the space into one filled with wedding finery. It reminded her a bit of the 'oldie but goodie' Christmas in Connecticut, and that scene when they were preparing for the show with an army of men behind them. There were men in dickies up on ladders, hanging yards of ivory and twinkling lights, and other men erecting and placing columns and trees in a strategic display. The stage was in the midst of a transformation. The pounding thuds of hammers at work, combined with drills, made Delilah unexpectedly homesick. It reminded her of the week leading up to the opening of a show, with stage hands building sets, last minute run performance run-throughs, and quite a bit of hair pulling, until somehow, as if by magic, opening night would arrive and the place would transform into another universe for a time.
It was one of the reasons she'd always loved what she did.
In the center of the controlled melee stood a brunette woman conducting the men with all the strength and skill of a maestro. Delilah trailed a few steps behind Zoey as they approached her.
"Kara, I'd like you to meet Delilah Gregory. She's going to be performing during the ceremony. Delilah, this is Kara Lowe, owner of Bridal Dreams and keeper of my sanity right now."
"Hi, Delilah. It's so nice to meet you."
She shook Kara's hand. "You, as well."
"What can I do for you both?" Kara asked, keeping an eye on the workers.
"If it wouldn't intrude too much, Delilah was going to run through a couple numbers so I could make my final selection on the music for the ceremony. We thought it would be a good idea to actually hear them in the space where she'd perform them."
"Not at all. The guys are due up for a break anyway." Kara turned with all the command of a general on the battlefield and whistled loudly, getting the workers' attention. "Take a break, we'll reconvene in thirty."
"The musicians will be over here to the right of the stage." Kara pointed her arm toward the right of the stage with a small flourish. With a grace borne of experience, she led Delilah to the front of the room.
"Watch your step." Kara pointed out the minefield of tools and supplies strewn about as they maneuvered toward the stage area. "I know it might not look like it now, but this will be the where the musicians are located. Will this be all right for you? Can I get you anything?" Kara asked with a generous smile.
"Absolutely, it should be just fine, and I don't need anything, but thanks for asking."
"Then I will leave you to it." Kara retraced her steps until she met Zoey in the center of the room. One of the workmen, with a wealth of inky black hair pulled into a ponytail at his neck, joined them. At the way Kara leaned into his muscled form briefly, proclaiming the inherent bond, Delilah knew they were a couple. It seemed to her that everyone around her was part of a twosome. Whereas she seemed to be the last single girl standing, and not for lack of trying.
Shaking off her malaise, Delilah set her purse on the floor a few steps away, and then took up her stance. Singing and music, for Delilah, was the one place she could escape reality—or it had been until recently. It was her heart, the better parts of her soul and, for her, was where her internal peace resided. She hoped she could eventually retrieve the parts of it she'd allowed Ethan to tarnish.
She rolled her shoulders, working out a few of the kinks from her travels, expanded her chest, filling her diaphragm up with oxygen, and slid into her rendition of Ave Maria. As the notes and her voice permeated the space, workers who hadn't laid down their tools stopped mid stroke. Everyone's eyes shifted to her as her voice rose with the cadence, trilling over a high note. She blocked out their stares. She always did, turning inward until there was nothing but the melody inside her veins. The room and its inhabitants dimmed as her voice soared.
This was the one space where everything made sense to her, where Delilah felt at home. She didn't get stage fright; not really, she'd always just focused on the way the music made her feel and where it took her when she was on stage.
After Delilah's voice hit the final note, ending the song, the room was deadly silent. There were tears in Zoey's eyes as the workers began to clap and hoot their appreciation.
"Not to interrupt, but where would you like the band to set up?" A deep bass male voice reminding her of molasses boomed over the applause.
There was an audible gasp. And was that a 'squee' from the bride-to-be as she turned toward that male voice? Delilah's gaze shot to the rude interloper, only to spy mega-watt rock star Bastian Dean of the band The Harbingers, with his hands shoved in his ripped jean pockets, replete with a bad boy half smirk and devil may care confident vibe rolling off his hot rod body. He had managed with a few choice words to remove the focus off her and redirect it toward himself.
Her hands clenched. Either that or she'd do the man bodily harm. It wasn't that she craved the spotlight, but dammit, Ethan had done the same thing, using her voice to pretend he was the star of the show. It had been a way to erode her personal power and confidence in herself.
"I can't believe you are really here!" Zoey said with an audible girlish sigh, her voice filled with a tone of reverence.
"In the flesh, love. Where would you like the real band to set up? No offense, just never been one for music that's as old as dirt." He directed the last of his words to Delilah as he sauntered into the room toward Zoey, his long strides eating up the distance between them.
Delilah straightened her spine and headed toward the group. She'd graced the stage with icons that spanned multiple generations, withstood arrogant directors and fellow cast members, and even a manager and ex-boyfriend who acted like he owned her, so she would not bow before this arrogant jerk.
"That's all right; most pop stars don't understand what it means to make music with staying power," she said.
At her intentional dig, Bastian briefly scowled in her direction before he brought Zoey's hand up and kissed the back of it; all gentlemanly like. She didn't buy it for a second. Delilah knew his type all too well. The music superstar playboys, who were offended if a person didn't bow down before them.
Apparently sensing the impending fireworks between Delilah and Bastian, Zoey interrupted. "Delilah, it was gorgeous. I think the Ave Maria is the one we should go with. Now, Mister Dean…"
"Please call me Bastian."
"If you'll follow me, I'll show you to the ballroom, where I believe the stage is already finished, and you can begin your preparations there. Jared, why don't you show Delilah to her room? Delilah, I will meet you back in the library for some lunch in thirty minutes."
"Take your time."
Zoey escorted Bastian Dean from the conservatory as Kara and company resumed their activity around her. Delilah tried to keep her face blank, to not show how irked she was over Bastian Dean's comments. If she wasn't so raw, normally it wouldn't faze her, but Mullardoch was supposed to be a safe haven for her.
Jared wrapped his arm around her as they left the room, pulling her out of her funk.
"You were lovely as ever, lass. Don't worry much over Bastian. He can be a royal ass but he means well."
"I won't." But that was a lie. She would worry over it. And as for Bastian's ass—she'd like nothing more than to give his well-formed posterior a swift kick.