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Erin Stamper—solid, dependable, vanilla—is living the dream: devoted fiancé, house in the 'burbs, friends she trusts with her life. That is until the day her fiancé comes home with the shocking news that he's in love with another woman. Erin's whole life collapses, but just when she is about to be crushed under the weight of all that pain, she discovers even more shocking news. This time, she learns that someone she has known, one of those trusted friends, owns a BDSM club. Suddenly, dependable, solid, practical Erin makes the decision to stop hiding in her safe suburban home and explore this new world. Consequences be damned.
Dominant Bradley Sorenson opens the door to this new world and escorts her inside, promising to show her everything she wants to see, and more. But just as she begins to find contentment in her true self, she receives a letter that starts a chain of blackmail that could ultimately end her new relationship. Between the blackmail and her new self-awareness, Erin must fight the urge to creep back into the cage she's so used to hiding in, and work to liberate her heart.
Publisher's note: This story contains explicit sexual themes, including strict corporal punishment and breath play. If such material is likely to offend, please do not purchase.
"I don't understand." Erin Stamper stood in the middle of the master bedroom she shared with her fiancé, unable to understand what she was seeing. Jonathan sat on their bed, the open suitcase beside him half filled with haphazardly folded clothes. "Jonathan." Her voice cracked. She was losing him. Her chest tightened, her stomach clenched along with her throat. "We can fix this. Whatever the problems, I can fix it. I can be better. I can—"
"Dammit, Erin. I don't want you to fix this, or me, or you. It's just—" He shoved his hands through his already tousled blonde hair. Dark shadows circled his eyes. He hadn't been sleeping well.
By the looks of his sunken cheeks, he hadn't been eating well either. How had she missed this? How had she looked at him every day of her life and not seen this happening to him? To her? To them?
"Look. I know we've kind of drifted a little. You're working a lot with your new job, and my work has kept me busy, too. We've missed a few nights out with the gang. Maybe we should set some time aside for us. You know, maybe a little vacation." It had worked in the past when they became disconnected. A quick two-day getaway to remind them of what made them fall in love in the first place. They needed just a little rekindling; surely that's all it was.
"I'm seeing someone." The words were spoken so softly, so brokenly, she couldn't have heard him right.
"What?" she whispered. The twist in her stomach should have been the acknowledgement she needed that she'd heard him just fine. "What did you say?" Her hands dropped to her sides, and she sank down into the chair at her vanity.
He looked up at her, his dark brown eyes, withdrawn and pitying. "Erin, I'm seeing someone."
The blood left her face, leaving a cold, clammy sensation behind. Her stomach stopped clenching as her mind worked its way through his words. She blinked.
"Don't." She held up a hand to ward off any further confessions. "Just give me a second." She took a few deep breaths, feeling his stare on her, knowing he was growing impatient. He didn't like when she took her moments, when she took time to think through what was happening. "How long?" she finally asked. Tears began to form, but she did her best to hold them back. Crying wouldn't help now. Now she needed to know how far away he'd gotten, and work out how to get him back.
"Six months," he stated flatly.
"Months?" She clenched her eyes shut. Six months. Suddenly all of the late nights at the office made sense. He had an office downstairs. He didn't need to stay downtown to get his work done. "Why? I don't understand. We're getting married."
"Is that why you wouldn't set a date? Is that why when I went looking at wedding dresses you told me to wait to buy anything until you got your bonus?" She'd been a complete fool!
"It's over, Erin." The statement was given like a hammer being slammed over an anvil. Over? They were over? Their relationship had failed? She failed?
"Jonathan. Whatever isn't working, we can fix it." She tried again. They had been engaged for over a year. They'd bought a house together. She'd moved out of the city to the burbs for him, to start a marriage, to start a family. It couldn't just be over.
He let out a ragged breath and shoved himself off the bed. She watched him from what felt like another world, as he opened the drawers to the dresser and began taking more of his clothes out and bringing them to the suitcase.
A thought occurred to her. "Were you even going to tell me?" Her hands clenched into fists on her knees. "I left work early today, but I hadn't told you I was taking a few hours off this afternoon. You thought I wouldn't be home until six. You were going to just pack your stuff and leave—what—a note?" Her voice steadily rose as the realization of what she would have come home to had she worked a full day bloomed in her mind.
Jonathan silently finished putting his clothes in the suitcase and closed it. The sound of the zipper bounced off the walls. "I'm sorry," he whispered. "I didn't mean for it to end this way. I really didn't. You deserve better than this."
"Then don't leave me." She hated how pathetic she sounded, but the world she knew slowly began to peel away from her grasp. Everything around her filled with haze and confusion.
Another ragged sigh. His eyes met hers for a brief moment before he pulled the suitcase from the bed. "I can't stay, Erin. I love her."
Erin had heard people explain what a broken heart felt like. She'd nursed Jessica through a few of her own. But until that moment, that second where she watched the man she thought was the love of her life pick up his bag and say those words, she never understood the sharp pain of it. A butcher knife to the chest would have had less of an impact on her. Her breath caught in her throat, tears burned her eyes, and her chest felt as though it had been cracked open.
"I'm sorry," he said again as he walked to the door. Unable to move, to breathe, to focus, she listened to him open and shut the bedroom door. Footsteps echoed through the house as he ran down the wooden stairs. The front door creaked as it opened, and the picture frame that hung from the door rattled as he closed it.
"Don't go," she finally whispered into the empty room. His car roared in the driveway, then slowly faded away as he drove down the street. Away from their home. Away from her.
Erin sat on her couch staring at the television. The reflection in the dark screen captured her sad state. It was nearly two in the afternoon. She'd finally showered and put on real clothes, but she didn't feel any better. Two days had dragged on since Jonathan's departure. She'd managed to get to work both days, even managed to get a few things done, but it was Saturday, and she had nowhere to be.
Having to get out of the weekly friend dinner the night before hadn't been too difficult. She shot a text claiming they weren't going to make it. No big deal. Alex was busy with his new girlfriend. Erin was really ornamental at this point. A piece in the background that filled in a spot at the table. Whatever news she missed, she doubted would be earth shattering, and if it was, they'd keep it from her anyway.
She'd been friends with Kelly, Jessica and Alex since first meeting them during her years at UIC. She'd been an English major, and after having seen Jessica in several of her classes, she'd finally gotten up the nerve to say hello. She didn't know anyone at UIC or the surrounding area. Having grown up in Bloomington, she was several hours away from anyone she knew. Jessica's friendship had come equipped with Kelly and Alex, which made it that much easier for Erin. Having been the last of the group, she always felt as though the other three had something special that she wasn't truly a part of. Some secret connection she wasn't privy to. More so lately, than usual.
There were several conversations she had with Jessica and Kelly where it seemed she was the only one not included in the exact topic being discussed. Whenever she tried to find out what was happening, they would wave it off and change the topic, saying it was no big deal or that she wouldn't understand. Her parents still lived in Bloomington, she had no siblings, and her friends were in the city. Jonathan was her only connection in the burbs. She'd never even tried to make friends with the neighbors; she was rarely home to do so anyway.
Her job at Envious, a start-up marketing company, as a graphic designer had kept her working in the city. Jonathan worked in the city, too, but it had been his idea to move to Elk Grove. He wanted to raise their family in the burbs, and the housing market made it the perfect time to buy. Even if he wouldn't set the date for the wedding, she agreed with him. They had house hunted and bought the two story ranch within a month. She loved the house. She kept it clean, and always decorated it to his liking. It was his home as much as hers, and she never wanted him to feel as though it was a woman's house. She didn't want him to have a need for a man-cave.
She tried to eat a bite of her cereal, but it just made her stomach hurt. Pushing the bowl further away from her on the coffee table she stared at her reflection. "Well, what a fine mess you've found yourself in." She frowned at herself. Her phone beeped Jessica's notification sound. Not ready to indulge in human contact just yet, she left it on the table.
She felt numb walking through the house. Touches of their life together were splattered everywhere. Photographs, mementos from vacations, his sweat jacket still laid on the arm chair in the front room. Knowing it was a bit serial-killeresque, she slipped her arms through the jacket and pulled the hood over her head. The smell of his cologne still lingered.
Wanting to feel his presence, she walked down the hall to his home office. Working for a large finance company, he did a lot of work at home on the weekends and nights. They had originally shared the office for when she did some freelance work, but he'd said he needed his own space, and she'd moved her desk into the spare bedroom.
He hadn't taken anything from the room when he left. She sank into the plush leather chair and dropped her head back, breathing in the room, trying to capture him again. How had everything gone so wrong, so fast? There had to have been signals that he wasn't happy. Was she so consumed with her own life that she hadn't seen it? She tried to think back, to find the warning signs, but nothing popped up. Small disappearances now made more sense, but the why wouldn't come into focus. They didn't fight, not really. Their sex life hadn't even been off, he seemed as active in that department as ever. No changes, and she hadn't asked for more than he was willing to give.
She went to turn on his computer, only to find out it was already on. He had forgotten to log off the last time he was on it. Knowing she probably shouldn't, she clicked on his email icon. Still logged in there, too.
Ashley Braggon. His new girlfriend. Dozens, if not hundreds of emails from Ashley filled the screen. It wasn't the right thing to do, but she clicked on the emails anyway. The reason Jonathan had left played out in all of the emails. Complaints of how gullible she was, how June Cleaver she appeared to him. Why would I want to fuck June Cleaver? he'd said.
He'd complained how she never wanted to make a decision, that she always deferred to him and never thought for herself.
"That's not true!" she yelled at the computer screen. "I think for myself all the time. I wanted you to have your say. I didn't want to control us!" Tears burned hot down her cheeks as she continued to read through the emails. Her little dirty secret desires she'd wanted to try in the bedroom leaked across the screen. He'd made fun of them, had called her a freak, telling her about how Erin wanted him to slap her face. "That was one time!" she yelled again at the computer. He had laughed at her when she confessed that little desire, and she never brought it up again. "Three years ago," she muttered to herself, wiping her nose with the sleeve of his hoodie.
Naive. Sheltered. Silly. Groaning, she finally turned off the monitor. She couldn't see the words anymore through her tears. Ashley never had much comment back other than to sympathize with him, and make plans for their next rendezvous. At least the woman hadn't joined in on the ridicule. But how could she? From what Erin could tell, she was a complete stranger. A woman he'd picked up at the coffee house down the street from his office.
She heard a familiar ring tone play from the living room, and clenched her eyes shut. What would she tell their friends? Had Jonathan already made the announcement? She was the level headed one in their group, the responsible, respectable, everything-everyone-expected-her-to-be one. How was she going to tell them that she lost Jonathan? That she couldn't hold on to a fiancé? Hadn't she done everything she was supposed to? College degree—check. Meet a boy—check. Get engaged—check. Buy a house—check. Get married—failed.
Tears fell again, but no more sobs. Her chest hurt from the crying, her face tight and dry from the constant tears. Another beep. She needed more time. She took a few steps to the loveseat Jonathan kept in the office, and curled up on it. She needed more sleep.
Several days later, Erin stepped off the Metra platform and headed to her car. Work had been a waste of time. Her mind wouldn't sit still long enough for her to come up with the logo her boss had asked for. She decided to call it a day after lunch and head home. Seeing the distraction in her work, Charlie had been all for her getting a fresh start tomorrow.
Although the pain of Jonathan's confession and desertion still lingered, it wasn't the entirety of her distraction. On the train to work that morning she remembered a conversation she'd had with him a few months back. Something about a new business loan for a new club in the city. A sex club, Jonathan had called it, but didn't give her much more detail than that. Something the burbs had going for it was the ease of traffic compared to the city. She made it home from the train in record time, pulling into the garage before the door was even all the way open. Tossing her purse on the loveseat in the office, she went straight for the filing cabinet. It only took a moment before she pulled out the file Jonathan had kept in regards to the club's loan documents.
Top Floor. The permit was for a three floor night club, each floor held its own building permits and business plan though. Alex's name was on each document, but the only level that had an actual name at the time the permits were purchased was Top Floor. The description given only stated that the club catered to alternative lifestyles. "That tells me nothing," she mumbled and jammed the file back into the drawer.
But it did give her a name, and a few seconds later, with the help of Google, she was staring at the club's website. It had opened several months ago. Alex owned the club. She wiped her eyes and read the screen again. Nothing changed. Alex was the owner of a sex club. A BDSM dungeon and night club. She sat back in the chair taking slow breaths.
Alyssa worked at the club with Alex. Kendrick had been listed on the business application as the security contact. Which meant Kendrick knew about the club. Did Kelly and Jessica know, too? Was she the only one that sat in the dark about this? She'd heard the term BDSM before, hell who hadn't by now, but she never really knew what it meant.
Another google search had her sitting wide-eyed at the computer screen, scrolling through websites, videos and blogs. She kept waiting to find the thing that repulsed her, the one thing that would turn her off instead of turning her on. Her panties dampened as she continued to scroll through photographs of women tied, and gagged, and with red stripes across their otherwise white flesh. She paused at a still photo of a woman wearing an apron, and only an apron, tied down to the dining room table. A wonderfully dressed man stood in front of her with his cock out, stroking it over her open mouth. Streams of white come painted her face over her open smiling lips.
Her hand slid easily down her pants, finding her wet, swollen clit. She continued to stare at the picture as she moved her fingers over her aroused body. So many times, she'd imagined being fucked in such a way, and always had thought herself crazy, weird. After the face slapping incident, she never spoke of such things to Jonathan. Now, seeing the come dripping down the woman's cheek, she pressed harder, rubbed faster, and let out a satisfying scream as her orgasm shot through her body, leaving her with a racing heartbeat and shaky breath.
As a distraction, it would do.
Bradley stared at an accounting ledger that for all intent and purposes could have been written in Arabic. Numbers flew all over the page, some in brackets others in bold. The only part of the report he did understand was the headers listing the four owners, including himself, that owned Bar Corp.
Buying into Bar Corp hadn't been a frivolous purchase, or one that he didn't take into serious consideration before buying. Alex Tribelli, a personal friend of his, had come to him during a party hosted at a mutual acquaintance's home with the suggestion. He'd already had the real estate picked out and had a business plan already drawn up, the only thing he needed was investors. Bradley, could have handed over his 250k and left it at that, but the idea of owning a piece of something like the club gave him a purpose.
His parents had left him enough money to ride out the rest of his life if he wanted, but he didn't watch his father make his money and learn nothing. Hard work moved you forward. Standing still got you nowhere. Besides, the money in the bank was just money, and it wasn't his. He wanted his own, his own legacy, his own pride. He had no claim to the riches his parents left him after the horrible car accident that took them away far too soon. That was their legacy, their money.
It hadn't taken him much time to see the worth of Alex's venture. Having a club with three levels, each catering to a different sort of clientele wasn't unheard of, but there was none like it in the proximity of the location Alex picked. Top Floor held the most security, and secrecy. It wasn't opened to the general public. At first, membership was by invitation only. Recently, they had started taking applications for memberships. Each applicant was screened thoroughly. Anyone with a violent crime conviction was denied. Anyone caught using drugs while in the club, booted out and membership suspended. Anyone putting another member in danger by not following the safety rules, banned. They weren't fucking around.
Almost every invitation sent out resulted in an application, and after the membership was opened to the public, applications poured in. Alex's advertising background boosted the members list, as well as made the opening night for all floors booming. They were bursting at the seams within a few weeks. Now that they'd been open for over six months, and they were already turning a profit, Bradley started to oversee the ledgers more closely. Fingers became sticky when there was excess candy about.
And sticky fingers he found. The cost of personal business expenses for two of the owners made no sense. He and Alex ran the day to day operations—he mostly, since Alex was still working his fulltime gig at the advertising firm. Yet, Travis and John, who contributed nothing to day to day operations, were tallying up the bulk of the expenses: private parties, free food and drinks, utilization of working staff.
He ran a hand over the smooth skin of his head and leaned back in his chair. He may not have aced his math classes in college, having been more concerned with what he could accomplish in the gym, but he knew a negative number when he saw it. And he could see a thief from miles away. If John and Travis weren't stopped, they would soon suck the company dry.
Bradley marched across the narrow hallway to Alex's office, ignoring Claudia's pleading glance. He'd have to talk with her later. He loved playtime, but he wasn't into anything serious. His idea about relationships was that they didn't last long. It was better to keep them in the playroom. What he wanted, didn't work twenty-four/seven.
A short hour later, staring across his desk at him sat the petite brown-haired, dark-eyed woman he'd found at the elevator searching for Alex. During his short meeting with his partner, she had shown up at the front desk demanding to see him, but refusing to give her name. Thinking she was an ex or other bothersome woman who just wouldn't take the hint Alex wasn't interested, he offered to deal with her. Alex, being somewhat preoccupied with his girlfriend, Alyssa, had been more than happy to let him deal with whatever issue was banging down their front door.
He had waited outside the elevator that was the main entrance to the club. The password protected key pad kept wandering customers from gaining access. When the doors slid open, he expected to find a hellcat of a woman, all dolled up with makeup and skin fitted clothes on. The woman in front of him could have doubled for his high school English teacher, Mrs. Stentson, right up to the tightly wound bun on the top of her head.
"Where's Alex?" She narrowed her eyes at him, looking him up and down. It had to be at least ninety degrees outside, yet she clung to the thin sweater around her shoulders as though it were going to fly free from her body at any moment. Even with the sweater, and the loosely fitted knee length skirt, he could see the roundness of her hips, and the swell of her breasts. "Excuse me, can I please speak to Alex." Her voice wavered a bit the second time she spoke.
He met her gaze for a moment. She wasn't an ex or a crazed crush. She was in need of help. The panicked look in her eyes made him uneasy about letting her stand in the lounge. The evening was beginning to pick up speed with members showing up. The ding of the elevator behind her made her jump as it slid open, letting out three more people. He glanced over at them, glad they had been completely street legal in their clothing. He didn't think this woman would be able to handle seeing some of the other members in their full fetish gear. As much as he loved a good leather corset, and a leash—to a vanilla it would be startling. And this woman was vanilla.
"He's busy in a meeting. He asked that I see to whatever your needs are. My name is Bradley Sorenson." He put his hand out to her. She stared at him for a moment and shook her head.
"Can you just tell him that Erin is here? He'll come out." She ignored his hand and gripped her sweater tighter. Did she think he would rip it from her body?
Bradley had heard her name mentioned before. One of Alex's closer friends. Alex most definitely would run out to get her out of the club if he knew she were there. But Bradley wasn't going to hand her over to Alex. He had no intention of handing her over to anyone just yet.
"I'm sorry, but it's a really important meeting. How about you come into my office and wait." He didn't wait for her to respond before cupping her elbow and leading her through the lounge area and straight back to his office. She didn't protest when he touched her, in fact if it wasn't his imagination screwing with him, she relaxed under his direction.
Once they were tucked away in his office and the door was closed, which made her jump, he led her to the chair opposite his desk. "Can I get you something to drink?" He offered her a bottle of water, which she declined.
And so they sat. Staring at each other. To be more accurate he stared at her, while she nibbled on a fingernail and stared at his chest. "Do you think he'll be long?" she finally asked, folding her hands into her skirt.
"Could be. Why don't you tell me what's going on? Maybe I can help." He leaned forward, leaning his elbows on the desk.
She huffed a little laugh and rolled her eyes. "Doubtful."
"Erin, I'm sure whatever the trouble, I can help." Even as he the words came out of his mouth he doubted them. There could be any number of issues going on with her. She could be pregnant. How would he fix that?
Her soft brown eyes wandered over him for several long moments. Never had he been appraised so boldly. Finally, she gave a curt nod and took a deep breath. "I suppose it might be better talking to you than Alex. He might freak out on me."
Bradley had known Alex for the better part of two years, and never in that time did he witness any behavior that qualified as freaking out. If he remembered correctly, Erin was the tightly wound one of the bunch. Alex joked she'd crack in half someday, so the odds were pretty good her trouble would be something easy and uncomplicated.
"My fiancé dumped me," she blurted out. Bradley tried to keep the smile planted on his face and not show any signs of surprise or pity. The last thing she needed was his pity. "He left me for some barista." She took a rattling breath, but she kept her composure. "When I was looking through his things, I came across some paperwork regarding this place." She waved her hands in the air. "It had Alex's name on it so I looked it up. See, he didn't mention this to me or to any of us. Not just me, but any of us." His eyes narrowed at the clarification of her pronoun usage.
"Why did your fiancé have paperwork about the club?" Bradley flattened his hands on the desk.
"He works at Wells Fargo, where your business loan is held. I guess he did some of the leg work on the financing. I'm not really sure what he did." She crossed and re-crossed her ankles.
"Okay," he prompted her to continue, as the amount of fidgeting she was doing told him she wasn't quite through with her explanation. "Have you told Alex about your fiancé?"
"No. And now that I'm talking to you, I can avoid that for a little longer." She took a deep breath. Relief flashed across her features.
"I don't think I understand."
"When I found out about this club, this floor particularly, I did some digging. You know, to educate myself on the topic." She gave another curt nod, which made him nod in agreement because it seemed to be the thing she wanted him to do. "And when I did that, well—" A flush crept up her neck and covered her entire face so swiftly he wondered if she had even realized it happened. "Well, let's just say it opened my eyes to a few things I've been missing out on. Some things that maybe I'd like to try."
He stared at her, waiting for her to continue, but she appeared to be finished. She sat back in the chair and began to tap her toe on the ground. Maybe getting Alex would have been the right thing to do. Maybe it would have been the easier thing to do.
It would be best if he stood up right then, and retrieved Alex from his office. "What sort of things?" Instead, he dug himself in deeper.
Her eyes widened at the question. "Well, I…"
"Spanking?" He asked, finding the intensity of her blush delicious. "Ropes?" He stood from his desk and walked over to the bookcase where he kept the majority of his educational material. Eventually the club would offer educational workshops, but for the time being he kept a few books on hand to give to new curious members.
Scanning through the books, he found one in particular he wanted and plucked it from the shelf. She remained quiet, watching him as he moved around the office. Compared to her petite frame, he probably looked monstrous.
"You said that already," he pointed out as he stood in front of her, leaning against his desk. She uncrossed her legs and pushed back a little to make room for him. "Are you looking for a way to get over your ex?" He casually tapped the book against his thigh.
"What? No. Obviously I'm not looking for a relationship. I just want to explore. I'm allowed to do that," she said with more gumption than her eyes conveyed. The way she wrung her hands in her lap gave him the impression of a woman doing everything in her power to remain in control. This conversation wasn't easy for her. If given the chance, he wondered if she would bolt from the room. Yet she continued engaging with him. "I know there's a membership application and all of that, I was hoping Alex would get me started."
"You want a membership?" The book banged on the desk when he dropped it.
"Yes, that's why I'm here." A forced smile met his gaze. "You didn't think I would proposition Alex did you? He's a friend. And he's involved."
Bradley fought the urge to rub his eyes. She was taking him in circles. "So after your fiancé walked out, you went digging through his things, somehow managed to find our club on the web, and now you'd like a membership?" He summed up the conversation so far, more for his own benefit than hers. After a small nod he pressed on. "What turned you on? What did you see that made your panties soaking wet?" He saw her startle a bit at his crudeness, but he didn't do sweet talk, and he had a feeling she didn't need it.
Her gaze dropped to her hands for a moment before she looked back up at him with more determination than before. "I saw a lot of things. Women tied up. Women being spanked. One woman had a ball gag in her mouth, tied to what looked like a cross of some sort, and clothespins strategically placed on her torso and breasts." She stood from her chair, hands fisted at her sides. "I read story after story about women submitting to their partners in the bedroom." Her gaze wandered to his chest when she made her final confession. "And out of the bedroom, too."
If his cock hadn't already been alerted to the beauty before him, her fresh blush finished the job. The shy resolved expression she'd sported when they first entered his office fled with her description of what she'd found online. He had no doubt that she'd seen plenty. The image of her sitting at a desk watching the sort of acts she described, one hand on her naked breast, and the other sliding down her body, into her panties… He shook his head to ward off the visual. His pants were painful enough as it was. "And what did you do when you saw these images?" He forced a flat tone, but the way his heart had begun to pick up speed, he wasn't sure he'd be able to keep it together for much longer.
Her lashes fluttered against her perfectly tanned skin before she looked away. "I… Are you able to help me with a membership? I know you have a screening process, so I'm sure it will take a few days and since it's already Thursday…"
His hands on her shoulders stilled her. Her large brown eyes peered up at him with some surprise. Hell, he was surprised too. That he'd managed to go that long without touching her. "I'll email you the membership application. You will send it back to me, personally." He released her, but brought his hand up to her face, running the back of his knuckles along her jaw. "I have more questions for you, though, before I do that."