It’d been difficult wrapping her head around the concept; Layla willingly ceded control to Murphy in all aspects of her life—not just sexually. When Layla had lived in Denver, Ainsley had known Murphy worked in a club, but not what kind of club. But she’d never imagined a sex club, because she had no flipping clue places like that even existed outside fictional novels.
She planned to get a real education about it tonight.
She scooped up Layla’s risqué lingerie and slunk into the bathroom. She stripped and added a piece at a time, ignoring the pooch in her belly. Next week she really had to start working out again. The kimono hit mid thigh and adequately covered her jiggly ass. Five minutes after her thirty-seventh birthday her body had started to sag like an ugly old couch. Not that she’d ever in her life been a toned size two.
Now is not the time to revisit your body issues. Think sexy, act sexy, be sexy.
Once she’d tugged on her outfit, she pinned up her hair, securing it with a hairnet. She unzipped the bag and slipped the wig from the Styrofoam dummy’s head, settling it onto her own.
After jabbing a million bobby pins into her scalp, Ainsley angled closer to the mirror, smoothing flyaway strands with her fingers. The sleek wig was shoulder length, coal black with jagged ends dyed blood red. It was funky, hip and fun. No one would mistake it for her real hair, but wasn’t that the point of tonight? To be daring and eccentric? She was fully incognito in this get-up. She doubted her cats would recognize her.
Two raps on the door were her only warning before Layla burst in. “Are you… My God, what the fuck is that thing on your head?”
Not exactly the reaction she’d hoped for. “I’m embracing my inner Sydney Bristow.”
Layla grabbed her upper arms and circled her slowly before stopping in front of her.
“So? Do I look ridiculous?”
“No. It just shocked me. But I’ve gotta say, the wig is perfect with the clothes I brought. Wow, A, you look fantastic.”
“Scouts honor. You always look nauseatingly well put together. I like seeing this other side of you.”
“What other side? Nuttier? Sluttier?”
“Younger. More playful. Now don’t glare at me. I know you’re a professional woman and all, but, girlfriend, there’s no reason not to show a little skin after that bank vault closes. You’re sporting one of those curvy hourglass bodies that men go wild for.”
Wasn’t that “hourglass figure” phrase a euphemism for…fat?
“Don’t hide it. Flaunt it.”
Ainsley wasn’t the flaunt it type.
Or maybe you are. Age and size ain’t nothin’ but numbers.
“Let’s hit the road. The club is about to open and Murphy is getting all snappy and threatening because I’m not there.”
Here was the opening she’d waited for. “Layla, can I ask you something?”
“Yes, I have time to do your make-up before we go.” She pointed to the toilet seat. “Sit.”
Ainsley closed her eyes when Layla hovered over her with brushes, powders and eyeliner. “Thanks, but that wasn’t the question I meant. I want to know about your relationship with Murphy. He seems awfully controlling.”
“That’s the definition of a dominant.”
She struggled to find the wording that wouldn’t piss off her friend but would also give her the information she’d always been too shy to ask about. “He doesn’t like, hurt you or anything if he doesn’t get his way, does he?”
“Are you asking if he beats me if I’ve done something to piss him off?”
Layla swept a long, wet line of make-up across Ainsley’s eyelids near her lash line. “Don’t open your eyes for a minute.”
“Murphy has never raised his hand to me in anger. It would destroy him to hurt me. But you have to understand that his use of whips, floggers and other instruments are part of our life. I ask him to restrain me and leave welts and marks on my skin.”
“The pain takes me to a place where I can truly let go of the control I’ve tried to maintain in all areas of my life since I was a little girl.”
Could a little pain really do that? Make Ainsley forget everything? Allow her to exist solely in the moment? Not worry about anything except when the next smack or lash would land? Why did that appeal to her so much? And why was she so embarrassed to admit that to anyone? She’d even led Layla to believe she wanted to explore her dominant tendencies, when submission interested her far more.
Isn’t the whole point of this to learn who you really are? If you’re capable of letting go? How can you be honest with anyone else when you’re still lying to yourself?
“I’ve had some bad things in my past,” Layla said softly.
“Oh, Layla. I didn’t know. I’m sorry.”
“No one knew because I excelled at keeping stuff hidden. But it was crippling me. I didn’t talk about it at all. My way to deal with it was with physical punishment. Making myself hurt as bad on the outside as I did on the inside. That’s how I ended up hanging out at hardcore bondage clubs and letting any man or woman use me as their whipping post. But I’d reached the point where I didn’t feel pain. One night I hooked up with a Dom who started to beat me severely and I didn’t do anything to stop him. But Murphy stepped in. He became my savior in so many ways.
“After he cleaned me up, he took me to his place. This big bear of a man was a total stranger to me and I felt safer with him than I’d felt with anyone. I slept for twenty-four hours straight. When I woke up, he wouldn’t allow me to put up my usual defenses. He talked to me. He made me talk to him.” Soft bristles swept over Ainsley’s cheekbone. “There was something about his voice that encouraged me, soothed me, made me want to please him, made me trust him. Anyway, I told him things I’d never shared with anybody. Things even I’d forgotten. And after I went through a whole box of tissues after sobbing for hours, and my throat was raw from talking for hours, he scooped me into his arms and just held me. For hours.”
Ainsley withheld her questions, hard as that was.
“Murphy had been a Dom for a decade at that point. He’d never considered taking on a sub fulltime until he met me. His brother Rafe is a counselor. After my meltdown I spent time talking to Rafe alone, and with Murphy. While all this soul searching stuff was going on, I fell in love with Murphy.” She sniffled. “Totally, completely in love with the gentle giant who had such a code of honor that he didn’t touch me at all.”
“How long did that last?”
“Six months. Murphy took me to clubs where I could see other kinds of play. Play where a Dom administering pain was a preface for sexual pleasure for the sub. Without getting into too many details, it made me hot. And wet. Two things I’d never felt when the whip scored my skin. When he saw my reaction, he knew I was ready to experience the difference with him. It changed my life. So, the long answer to your question is no, Murphy would never abuse me. He gets me. He loves me. We give each other exactly what the other needs.” She sniffled again. “You can open your eyes now.”
Ainsley looked at Layla.
“Be honest with me. Why are you interested in experiencing any of this? I see a look of revulsion in your eyes, Ainsley.”
“It’s more confusion than revulsion. I don’t know why some of this appeals to me so much.” She glanced away with embarrassment.
“There. That wasn’t so hard, was it?” Layla asked.
Yes. “I’m relieved your story has a happy ending. I never understood why you just quit your job so abruptly.”
“Maybe it seemed fast on the outside, but things hadn’t been going well at the bank for awhile. I was more than ready to walk away and start my life over with Murphy. Our relationship might not be the norm, but it works for us. What is normal? And who the hell has the right to define what it is anyway?” Layla smiled slyly. “And yes, I am happy. And I want you to be happy too.”
Ainsley doubted she’d ever find happiness in a man whipping her on a regular basis.
Judgmental much? You’re just scared of the unknown.
“Let’s go. You’re driving.” At the door, Layla said, “Oops, I forgot one thing.” She handed Ainsley a gold wristband. “Since you’re still on the fence about what you want, at least try and act like you deserve to wear this tonight.”
Ainsley squinted through the windshield at the building across the street. Rawhide Bar was burned into a gigantic wooden sign and outlined with rope-like neon tubing. “This is just a bar.”
Layla sighed. “What were you expecting?”
“A buzzing neon sign with an arrow pointing the way to a dark and dirty sex club, hidden in an alley. Scantily clad, red-lipped women smoking cigarettes and eyeing their next sexual conquest while the greasy bouncer swigged from a flask.”
“Sorry to disappoint you, but the Rawhide Bar has been here for over a hundred years.”
“It has? How’s that possible?”
“The Rawhide is two separate entities. The club portion harkens back to the days when a brothel operated out of the hotel side. Of course, they couldn’t call it a brothel, so they called it a gentleman’s club. The owners charged a membership fee, and the city provided the Rawhide with its own charter that’s still in effect today.”
“Yes. Cody and Trace’s great-grandfather was the founder. So when the boys of this generation decided to bring back the club aspect in a discreet and exclusive manner, it was all perfectly legal because the charter never expires as long as an original family member owns the building and business inside.”
“I wondered how a place like this survived in a smaller town like Gillette without rousing local suspicions. So neither their father nor their grandfather ran any type of club from here when they were in charge?”