“So you’re telling me this woman waltzed into my club, expecting to be given the gold stamp of approval because she paid some dude from a male escort service to let her boss him around for a few hours?” Cody asked tightly.
“So much for being the master of your house.” Sully snickered.
“Layla assured me that Angel only wanted the Domme designation as protection; she didn’t intend to use it besides to observe.”
“That’s an even worse reason for bein’ here. She’s a poseur,” Ben said. “She ain’t gonna get any real idea if she can handle this, even on a casual basis, if she can’t be honest with herself about what she is.” For Christsake, she’d worn a freakin’ disguise to the club. “I’ll bet you each a thousand bucks she’s submissive.”
A bet no one took, because in six years, Ben hadn’t been wrong even one time.
Cody pointed at Murphy. “You know we can’t let her in the club if she ain’t gonna play. How the fuck did you ever agree to breaking that rule?”
“Let’s just say Layla has a helluva distraction technique and she asked at a…ah, a pivotal moment.”
Sully and Cody shook their heads.
“How many nights is she here?” Ben asked Murphy.
“That’ll be enough. Get Layla to introduce me.”
“Only if you inform my little slave that pushing me to admit her friend to the club as an experienced Domme has earned her a hefty consequence.”
“Why do I have to tell her?” Ben asked.
Murphy motioned Layla over. “Because she’ll sass me. But she never gets away with mouthy behavior around you, Bennett.”
Layla sidled up to the bar. “A Bombay Sapphire and tonic and a cherry Coke.” Her eyes widened when she saw Ben adjusting a white bracelet on his wrist. “Bennett? You’re changing your status?”
“Only temporarily so I can fix your mistake.” He invaded her space and spoke softly. “You are in big trouble, Layla.”
“Don’t pretend you don’t know why.” He watched her gaze skate briefly to Angel’s table.
She dropped her gaze to her hands. “I’m sorry, Sir.”
“You will convince Angel to play with me.” Ben fought a grin when he heard Layla mutter, “Shit. She is so fucked.”
“Not as fucked as you are, my pretty,” Murphy warned her. “You will do whatever Bennett demands to ensure your inexperienced friend doesn’t wind up in a situation we cannot control.”
She muttered, “I should’ve just given her a damn black bracelet.”
“Excuse me?” Murphy snapped.
“Murphy will decide your punishment for your coercion in getting your friend admitted to this private club under false pretenses,” Ben told her.
Layla shot Murphy a contrite look and he snorted. “Puppy dog eyes ain’t gonna get you out of the doghouse, woman.”
“Whatcha got planned for our wannabe Domme?” Cody asked Ben.
“Charm, tempt, seduce—convince her to let me be her submissive tonight.” He lifted a brow at Layla to get her butt moving.
“Putting your plan into play now, Sir.” She grabbed the drinks and flounced off.
“I better go help Trace and Riley set up for tonight,” Sully said, stepping away from the bar.
“Make sure room four is saved for me,” Ben said.
“Will do.” Sully disappeared through the side door.
Cody laughed. “You sneaky son of a bitch. You’ve picked a no-view room. Don’t want any of your fan club chicklets to see the almighty Bennett at a woman’s feet?”
Ben offered another cocky grin. “Make no mistake. She might think she’s giving the orders, but I guarantee I’ll be the one in charge.”
The first thing Ainsley noticed as Layla sashayed back was her strained expression. “Is everything all right? Looked a little tense up at the bar.”
“It was.” Layla sank onto the barstool. “See the buff guy with the dark blond hair?”
“That’s Cody. The bar owner. He asked about you.”
Her hand froze above her drink. “He did? Why?”
“Well, you’re not exactly inconspicuous in that wig. And you’re wearing a gold bracelet. So he asked me if you were a lesbian.”
She choked on her gin. “Why would he think that?”
“Historically in this club, gold bracelets are worn by men, because ninety-nine point nine percent of the submissives are female. Cody wondered if you were here to perform a public scene with another woman.”
“He and the other guys—Doms—wanted to know if you had a specific time in mind for that performance so they could watch.”
“But…I’m not… I…can’t… I don’t like…”
Layla leaned closer. “I know that. So in trying to save your ass from, oh, having a woman willing to go down on you in public in front of a couple dozen horny guys, I told them you were choosy. So choosy in fact, that you might not find a man you want to play with at all tonight.”
She noticed Layla no longer wore that smug expression for pulling one over on them. “What else?”
“They reminded me of the club rule: if you pay, you play—regardless if you’re a member or a guest. No exceptions.”
“But you gave me this gold bracelet so I’d be top of the food chain, so I wouldn’t have to play.”
Layla bit her lip. “Then you’ll have to fake it, A, because the consequences of me lying to Murphy and trying to slide you under their noses as a real Domme?” She shuddered. “Not only will Murphy be mad at me for weeks, it could jeopardize his job. If they think I, a lowly sub, can manipulate him into letting anyone into the club, then they won’t trust his judgment. In the bar, or with club business, or with club members.” Her eyes shimmered with tears. “So you see the position I’m in.”
Guilt sideswiped her. She’d never intended to put Layla at risk. “Okay. I’ll do it. If you tell me what to do. What are my options?”
“No chance you’ll pick up a female sub just out of curiosity?”
Ainsley shook her head. Not something on her sexual wish list.
Layla glanced around. “More members will show up, but if you insist on a man, you’re screwed.”
“Please don’t use that phrase in this context, okay?”
“There’s only one guy I know who…um…isn’t a submissive but…um…a switch.”
“Meaning he likes men and women?”
“Bennett?” Layla snorted. “God no. He worships women with a single-minded intensity that’s slightly scary. He’s highly sought after here. And he’s very, very picky.”
“So why is he a switch?” Since Layla took such a long time to answer, Ainsley suspected her friend’s response would be a total lie.
“Sometimes he just wants pain.” Layla rattled the ice in her glass distractedly before meeting Ainsley’s gaze. “An experienced Dom is the safest way to get it.”
“Oh.” Not the answer she’d expected. She scanned the guys lounging at the bar. Which one was Bennett? Her gaze passed over the buff blond owner, lingered on the tall, dark and handsome guy in the business suit. Probably not him. The enormous man with the buzz cut was either military or law enforcement, so scratch him too. Ditto for the dark-haired, sinful-looking cowboy with the strip now stare and the hard-set mouth. The stocky guy who looked away when their eyes accidentally met?
Bingo. Had to be him.
“I’ve gotta get my collar on. Do you want me to introduce you to Bennett now?”
“Give me ten minutes to freshen up and—”
“Psych yourself up?” Layla inserted.
“Remember two things. Be confident, not bitchy. Use that eye contact thing we talked about. And have fun! You’re living every sub’s dream, A, getting to dominate Bennett. Embrace it.” She slid off the barstool and scampered to Murphy’s side.
Ainsley couldn’t look away when Murphy hooked the thin leather collar around Layla’s neck. Layla kept her eyes lowered, her head bowed.
A sharp sense of distaste arose. How could Layla, a confident, opinionated, educated woman, allow herself to be treated in such a subservient manner?
Ainsley wouldn’t have seen it if she’d slunk away in disgust. How lovingly Murphy’s big hands cradled Layla’s face. His insistent kiss. In that moment, when Murphy whispered in Layla’s ear and brought forth Layla’s beaming smile, Ainsley felt…jealous at their obvious connection.
Then she felt ridiculous and marched to the bathroom.
After pacing for five of the ten minutes, freshening her make-up for a couple more, Ainsley stilled. Breathed. Adjusted her scratchy wig. She looked outlandish, but that was the point. No one would ever believe uptight Ainsley Hamilton had the balls to wear this flashy garb.
She raised her chin a notch and practiced a cool-eyed stare. Time to earn a ball-buster reputation.
Revved up and ready, she exited the bathroom—just as Layla led Mr. Brooding Hot Cowboy to their table.
Her stomach cartwheeled.
When he aimed his deeply dimpled smile at her, she stumbled in her three-inch heels, straight into his strong arms.
“Whoa there. You all right?”
Ainsley glared at the floor as if it were responsible for her misstep. Then she looked up into the bluest eyes this side of heaven.
Holy Mother of God. He was striking. She could not wait to tell this man exactly what to do to her. Her gaze slid to his lips. She had an idea or fifty on how he could use his too-pretty mouth.
Layla interrupted Ainsley’s contemplation of his oral skills. “I’ll leave you two to make your own introductions.”