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He straightened slowly, paralyzing me with that knowing look. “My name is Remy. Welcome to La Perle.” “I’m…Erica,” I replied with a shaky breath. Fuck, twenty seconds with this man and my facade was crumbling. I wouldn’t last long in this place. I sent up a silent prayer for Blake to speed here, yet somehow I knew he was. “Erica.” Remy paused on my name and pursed his lips, as if he were letting the sound of it settle over his tongue like a fine wine. “Lovely. It’s always a pleasure meeting Blake’s friends.” He smiled faintly, as if he knew immediately how those words would rattle me. The muscles in my face tensed, but I tried like hell to calm my features. How could I hide my displeasure at the reminder that Blake had friends, and more than one, who ran in these circles? Too busy trying to lock down my physical reactions, I barely noticed Remy still held me in his clutches, our connection now prolonged but strangely not awkward. “Join us.” He nodded toward a long hallway beyond. By lowering our hands together to his side, he coaxed me a step closer. The small moment set me into motion behind him. On shaky legs, I started down the hallway. The old floors creaked below the clicking of my heels, making the journey to this secret place uncomfortably loud. At the end of the hall, a turn brought us to a landing. A thick ornate railing led downstairs where the muffled sounds of the club first hit my ears. After another gentle tug, I followed Remy down the stairs, clinging to the railing and, oddly, his hand like a lifeline. I strained to hear what was going on behind the door we approached. Music and the uneven tones of voices. Different voices. Quiet and loud, even some laughter. Then a loud cry that sounded like a woman’s. I tightened my grip. He smiled. “Don’t be afraid, cherie. But stay close to me, just in case.” CHAPTER TEN Alarms rang out in my brain, shooting fear down my limbs, making me sweat despite the sparse clothing under my jacket. I longed for the reassurance of safety. While Remy’s seemingly possessive presence didn’t exactly promise innocent protection¸ I wanted to believe it might. If only while I waited for the only man whose arms could take me away from the terrors of the world. And I was nothing short of terrified now. My eyes were wide, my heartbeat skipping out of control. Remy turned the old-fashioned knob with a squeak and gave us passage into an enormous oblong room that went on farther than I could see. The place was dim, not completely dark, but before I could bring everything into focus before me, Remy had me walking away from the entrance. We approached an old wooden bar situated against the wall. Afraid to look around, I followed him, a routine that was almost becoming instinct in the few moments I’d known him. “Let me take your coat.” I hesitated. I quickly sized up the nearly naked people in the room mingling with people in various states of dress. People like me, people in suits, people in street clothes, and many others clad as Tessa had been. Fitting in wasn’t a concern anymore, but I wanted to crawl into the shadows now, not put myself on display. Against my better judgment, I shrugged off the coat, which Remy quickly took. With a barely noticeable flick of his hand, he summoned a tall brunette with luminescent blue eyes to where we stood. She took my coat and disappeared just as quickly. “Have a seat. Can I get you a drink while you wait?” I sat on the smooth wooden stool, pulling down the hem of my dress as I did. I took in every small detail of my surroundings as quickly as I could. The walls were a deep red, made darker by the sparse lighting. “Erica.” I turned to Remy, my heart stilling at the familiar tone. Blake had that tone memorized when he wanted to get his way. “What will you have?” A modest but decidedly expensive collection of liquors was displayed along the wall. “Lagavulin,” I said. “On the rocks.” He regarded me silently. “Please,” I added softly, as if his look compelled me to. Remy’s face registered only slight amusement at the last part of my request. He relayed the order to the female bartender. She slid my drink toward Remy, her eyes cast down. He murmured a thank you and pushed it into my hand. His fingers lingered over mine only a second. I resisted the urge to pull my hand away. My nerves were tearing me apart. I wasn’t as brave as I thought I was. I lifted the drink to my lips and took the first burning swallow. I breathed in deeply through my nose, the sharp scent of the smoky liquor filling my lungs. I took another sip before setting the glass back down. The low, unrecognizable beat of the music was broken with the cry of a woman. I turned in my seat and froze at the visual that lit up before me. On a small but brightly lit platform in the center of the room stood a woman. The strangled cries had come from her. She was bent at the waist, hands gripping her ankles tightly, and clad only in a black corset that covered neither her breasts nor her bottom half. The shiny leather decoration clung to her torso as she jolted under the whip of a long black flogger against her backside. Another cry tore from her as the figure of a man unleashed a torrent of lashes. A look of tormented lust pinched her lovely features. She flushed red, from her cheeks all the way to her small breasts that bounced from her body with every new assault. I gripped my drink, letting the cut glass of the lowball mark indentations into my cold fingers. Heat flooded my face as I recognized the woman’s sweet agony. Remy’s voice broke the spell the woman’s sexual torture had put me under. “You are new here, and I like to know about my patrons. Tell me more about you, lovely Erica.” “Not much to tell,” I lied, my voice too light, almost comical in the context of where we were and what we were watching. “How long have you been with our Mr. Landon?” His dark eyes glittered as they fixed on me. I licked my lips anxiously under his penetrating stare. His eyes lowered, fixing on the motion. “Since May.” Since I graduated from college and my whole life changed. “So…you are his?” The fleeting sweep of his index finger over the well of my throat disturbed me more than I let on. His touch was feather light, but an unspoken challenge lay there. From the moment we’d been introduced, he touched me like he had the right to. The boldness reminded me of the man who did. Every touch seemed like a silent proclamation. “I’m his.” I found my voice, determined to leave no doubt as to the truth of those words. I wanted to recoil away from him, but determined to play the part, I sat frozen in place while his gaze swept over me.
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