Companion Story to
Peter sat back in a rather decadent, black leather chair while Hayato surveyed his new system. On the edges of the exquisite blue office, he watched he man enter in through the new, improved login screen. Let him navigate through the file search functions and updating processes. Even showed him the new client screening systems for Hayato’s firm and for the club, that not only tracked initial screening flags but regularly checked for updates in criminal backgrounds, unusual financial changes, as well as several other key points of interest.
It’d been almost three weeks’ worth of work, but it was finally finished. Holding all his law office’s client files as well as Donovan’s membership files, Hayato’s new computer system was not only better organized and better utilized but also better protected. It had cost an obscene amount of money, not to mention took a draining amount of time and played a bit fast and loose with privacy laws—hey, anything anyone put up on social media Peter considered fair game—but looking at it now it’d been worth it.
Thing of beauty.
“Looks good.” Hayato continued to mouse through the system. “Has all the necessary changes I asked for?”
“All the changes and additional firewalls and protection,” Peter answered with a nod. “It should all be exactly as you asked for.”
“Done for the night?” Peter turned to grab his bag.
“Done with work, yes,” Hayato clarified. “I’m meeting Max at the club to oversee the final plans for the celebration.” Hayato crossed his arms over his chest as he narrowed his ice blue eyes on his friend. “You should call Kat; join us.”
Peter felt his eye twitch at the suggestion. Under the shrewd man’s scrutiny, Peter rolled his tense shoulders. “I ought to get home.”
“You haven’t been to the club in a while,” Hayato commented. “How long has it been? Over a year, right?”
Peter shrugged. There about. “We’ve been busy.”
“Yes,” Hayato agreed with a judicial nod while Peter paced the ocean-blue room, “you’ve both done very well for yourselves.”
Studying the screen shrewdly, Haytato said casually, “Kat’s agreed to do an appearance for the anniversary celebration. We’re all so proud of her and so grateful that she’s willing to share some of her success with the community. She’s a great addition to our local celebrity panel.”
Kat? Peter stilled, cocking an eyebrow at Hayato. She was going to the celebration? As a guest celebrity? She was a good—and a rather obvious—choice, but Kat hadn’t told him.
Which wasn’t terribly surprising, as they weren’t really speaking much at the moment. They weren’t exactly fighting, but they certainly weren’t getting along either.
Still, she would have told him about that. Wouldn’t she?
“Of course, as a celebrity guest, her ticket is complimentary.” Hayato stood and reached into his inside jacket pocket. “Yours, however,” he said as he moved across the office to hand the other man a small, slip of paper, “I took the liberty of taking out of the payment I owe.”
Peter stared at the ticket, hesitating.
Hayato arched an indulgent eyebrow. “I trust that there isn’t a problem with that.”
Peter shook his head. He couldn’t go. He was trying to build a respectable life for himself—for his family. Donovan’s had no place in that plan. The time for play and games was done for them.
It’s not as if they could continue to do that when they had kids, right?
And, if it ever got out—if any of his clients or investors found out...
He couldn’t afford to let that happen. Not now. He still remembered the fallout Max had suffered a few years back. The fallout that almost dragged Kat and him under too. They’d barely made out of it unscathed. And then there was Nicholas Bailey. And little Lyndsey Jensen. And, while things had—for the most part—turned out well in the end, the scandal of it never really went away.
It was a risk Peter just couldn’t afford. Not now.
Hayato scoffed and crossed his arms over his chest again, leaning a lean hip against the sleek, black desk. He leveled a disappointed glare at him. “I never figured you for a self-loather, Peter.”
Peter winced. “What are you talking about?”
The blond man rolled his eyes. “This community has supported you for over a decade now,” he said. “We’ve seen you build and grow your business. We were there the day you met Kat, the day you moved in with her, the day you married her, and we’re here now. You would turn your back on us, ashamed? Of us? Of yourself.”
Peter turned from his friend. He wasn’t ashamed. He wasn’t.
People—circumstances—changed over time.
That was all.
He just had different priorities now. “I have a family to think about now. It’s not just me anymore. My family has to come first now.” He shook his head. “I can’t afford to be reckless anymore. I’m not a rebel or a crusader. I’m not the face or the head of any cause. Not anymore. It’s different now, Hayato. Things change.”
“Everything changes,” the lawyer countered coolly. “It’s what makes life interesting, worthwhile, and, yes, painful. You can’t stop things from changing, but you can choose—you are always choosing—how to handle those changes. Even while doing nothing, choosing to ignore and shut it all out, you’re making a choice. Just as much of one, with as many consequences, as you would if you made the choice to stand and fight.”
Walking closer, Hayato came to stand in front of his friend, laying a comforting, steadying hand on his shoulder. “We’ve missed you. You and Kat both. We’re not just a community, Peter; we’re your family too. And your absence—the distance you’ve put in place—we understand it, understand why you’re doing it, but it wasn’t something I would have expected from you.” He stepped back, his hand falling from his friend’s shoulder. “From anyone else, but never you. It’s,” he said, pausing to pick an appropriate word, “disappointing.”
Peter took off his glasses and pressed his forefinger and thumb into his shut eyes, sighing. He knew that. He did miss them. Missed that feeling of belonging and rightness in his life. Donovan’s had been such a large part of his life for so long, it did feel like a part of him was missing without it. But what, considering his goals and dreams, could he do?
“Take the ticket, my friend.” Hayato pressed the paper into Peter’s palm. “You don’t want to support us anymore, fine.” Peter cringed again. He tried to defend himself, but Hayato cut him off with a dismissive wave. “Whatever; as you say, things change. But not supporting Kat?” He lifted his shoulder in a stiff shrug as he turned to leave. “Even if she manages to, you’ll never forgive yourself for it.”
Peter stared at the ticket in his hand.
He loved Kat. More than anything else in the world. And he did want to be there for her. Support her in everything she wanted to do. He wouldn’t forgive himself if he didn’t.
And she wanted this. Wanted the fun and the games. Wanted the sense of belonging and family. Wanted the love and the support.
All the things he missed too.
He sighed and pushed his hair back, his fingers pulling at the strands. He’d just wanted to protect her. Protect what they could have one day.
At the expense, it would seem, of what they already had.
“Damn.” He clutched the ticket. Goddamnit. His face fell. “I’ve been an idiot,” he said, looking up at his friend, “haven’t I?”
Hayato lifted an obvious eyebrow and tilted his head. “Kat’s family too, Peter. We care about her too. She’s unhappy. Max thinks it’s because of you. Me?” He scoffed. “I don’t really care. We’re all idiots. We all fuck up from time to time. I understand, believe me.” Glaring at him with arched eyebrows, he sat back down at his desk. “But fix this, Peter; I don’t care how, just fix this. She deserves better.” He shrugged again and settled in his own leather office chair. “So do you.” Folding his hands, he rested his elbows on the smooth surface of his desk and pointedly met Peter’s gaze. “I’ll see you both at the celebration.”
So they were back to not having sex again.
But it was her fault this time. And Kat knew it. She’d been deliberately avoiding Peter for the past week and a half. Going to sleep early, before he came home from work, and getting up late, long after he’d left.
It made her feel lonely, but she didn’t know how to be with him right now. Didn’t know how to look at him, knowing that to be with him she would have to give up parts of herself. After finding her perfect partner, after reaching her happy end, she would now have to learn to live with less.
And though she knew she loved him—loved Peter more than she’d ever loved anyone—she didn’t know if she could live with that.
Walking through Donovan’s large, frosted glass doors, she frowned. She wasn’t really in the party mood, but she’d promised Max and Hayato. Dare and Harlan had worked so hard on the fliers and invitations. She’d promised Rand and Pip a dance. She couldn’t let them all down.
So she’d come—broken and tired—plastering a smile on her face as she entered the club. Looking around, Kat grinned. Max had done a fantastic job of coordinating things.
The club’s usually low-lit, shadowy space was filled with the added soft glow of beautifully colored paper lanterns hung from the ceilings to drape gracefully over the length of the large open room.
Long, brilliant, jewel-toned curtains flowed down the tall walls, transforming the dark, cavernous room into a bright visual delight. Framed by the vibrant shades, several pieces from local artists were displayed around the club, inviting guests to pause and appreciate.
Flowers were arranged everywhere, in vases and tucked along the edges of torch-like lights, adding color and perfumed scents that lingered sweetly in the air.
Long buffet tables were set up along the walls, filled with large, gleaming trays of tiny hors d’oeuvres, beautifully arranged like edible art, while waist-coated waiters circulated with trays of champagne.
The dance floor—usually strobe-lit and pounding with hard club beats—now held a small acoustic band, a local blend of mellow melodies. The sound filled the quiet, humming space, the perfect background to the mingling conversations milling about.
Max really had done well. She’d transformed Donovan’s, from a trendy nightclub with shades of kink, into an absolutely elegant affair.
Kat looked about the room spotting Nicholas having an intense discussion with Solomon, who possessively stroked the arm of her sub. Harlan and Rand were close by chatting with Dare and his date. By the far wall, Hallie and Danielle were looking at a sculpture while Lyndsey pulled a boy who looked almost too young to be in the club by the arm toward them, a look of pride on her face. Rob, Cara, Reena, and Elin were gathered about the food, Cara tormenting a poor waiter as the others smiled and shook their heads.
They all looked so happy. And Kat was happy for them. She was.
Or at least, she tried to be, but a creeping sadness—almost a choked longing—stalled her as she stood in the club’s entrance.
It was ridiculous. She’d been here a thousand times before. She’d used to come here on a weekly basis. Or more! The people in the club were friends; many were people she’d known for years.
Yet, as she stood there like the prodigal child come back, Kat couldn’t help but feel like an outsider looking in.
“Kat!” Max rushed up to hug her friend. “You came!”
“I said I would.” Kat laughed, hoping it sounded more real to Max than it did to her. “Peter can’t make it though.” She cringed and shrugged. “Work.”
Max nodded. “You’re here now;” she said, “it’ll be a blast, you’ll see.”
She ushered Kat to the table they’d set up for the local celebrities, a stack of her books piled high next to her seat—leave it to Max to turn a party into a sales opportunity.
She greeted Pip and Phil, who were busy selling T-shirts, buttons, bumper stickers, and CDs for their shows. Pip’s table was surrounded by shiny boxes filled with even shinier toys. Vibrators and dildos. Nipple clamps and handcuffs. Butt plugs and cock rings.
The sight of it, of Pip blithe and happy as she teased her partner with stallion-sized novelty items, made Kat a little sad. Frowning, she listened to them flirt and laugh. Her heart hurt when she saw Phil grab Pip around the waist and jerk her close as he growled a rumbling, wordless warning against her neck, making her giggle.
Kat shook her head. What was wrong with her? Feeling miserable and jealous over her friends’ happiness? She closed her eyes and tried to block out the dark, billowing envy clouding inside her.
Mustering up a smile, she picked up her pen and greeted the line of readers and fans clutching or studying her books.
For hours, she smiled and schmoozed and signed. She shook hands with fans while they told her stories. She smirked coyly while fans tried to pry series’ spoilers from her.
For hours, her problems—her broken dreams and sagging hopes—didn’t exist. For hours, her less-than life took a backseat to her work, a dream job she was never really sure she deserved but would always be grateful for. Especially now.
“Kat,” Max said into her ear as she bent low.
Kat cocked her head to the side, still smiling at a fan gushing over her now signed copy. “Hmm?”
“Ready for a break?” she asked.
“A break?” Her head perked up. She wasn’t really hungry, but the idea of sitting down with her friends over food for a bit sounded nice.
“Yeah,” she said, nodding toward the back, “I had one of the staff run and get some food. It’s set up in the back. Come on.”
Kat turned to Pip and Phil. “Go on,” Pip said as she continued to sign CDs and toy boxes. “We ate before we came.”
“We’ll hold down the fort for now,” Phil added with a smile.
Trying not to feel abandoned—isolated—Kat let herself be led back to Hayato’s office. Max, with excuses about getting back to the party, left her in the immaculate, blue room with the box of takeout set out for her on the desk, telling her to take her time.
Just what she needed.
Sighing, Kat sat down in Hayato’s cushy, leather chair and picked at the sandwich and fries sitting on the beautiful, black desk.
A loud, cheerful chrip sounded, making her jump.
Kat turned to the computer screen and the blinking chat box open and waiting.
“Not enjoying your dinner?”
Kat stared blankly at Petruchio_7’s message.
Kat blinked at the screen. Peter. Why was he messaging her on Hayato’s computer? She scooted up to the screen, her heart beating excitedly. She bit her lip and let her fingers hover over home before she began to type.
“Haven’t been very hungry lately.”
There was a pause. She held her breath and waited for his reply.
“Eat up, Katherina. That changes tonight.”
Then he signed off, leaving the box half-empty waiting—wanting—for a response. Kat couldn’t stop staring at the screen.
What kind of game was he playing? That it was a game, Kat was sure and the idea intrigued her, igniting a hopeful thrill inside her that had a sneaky smile spreading across her face.
She jumped when her phone rang. She dug inside her pocket to retrieve it. She looked at her phone and read the text message.
“You’re not eating, Katherina.Expect punishment.Now eat.”
With that thought hot and impatient in her head, Kat set down her phone, picked up her sandwich, and began to eat. She did so quietly, quickly, and obediently, without question or hesitation. And, when she finished her last fry, her phone rang again.
She swallowed and answered it. “Hello, Peter,” she said into the speaker.
“Hello, Katherina.” The low rumble of his voice was intimidating and thrilling without his familiar presence there. “Did you enjoy your dinner?”
“Yes, Peter.” Her voice became sweetly submissive and her head bowed slightly. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” he said simply. “Are you ready?”
“Good.” She heard him shift on the other end. “Get up. Go out into the hall. Take two lefts and enter the first door on the right. Go down the stairs until you reach the very bottom.”
Kat worried her lip and looked around the office.
“Leave everything but your phone in the office and go.” And then he hung up.
She put the phone on the desk and emptied the pockets of the suit jacket she’d thrown on over her simple but sleek, black dress. She left her wallet and keys on the desk by the computer before tucking her phone back into the inside pocket of her jacket and exiting the room.
She headed down the hallway, through the maze. Kat knew Donovan’s, inside and out. She’d walked its floors many times. And, though the hallways may, to an unobservant eye, all look the same, Kat knew their secrets.
She knew the swirl of paint in the lower left corner of the turn before the dungeon. She knew the slightly askew light fixture next to the mirrored glass rooms. She knew the tiniest crack in the tile that created an almost perfect triangle pointing toward the stage.
But, when she pushed through the door on the right, she found herself in a part of Donovan’s she’d never been in before. All concrete walls and floors and empty space, it looked unfinished.
She stared at the utilitarian, spiraled stairs leading up and down. She walked to the edge of the staircase and leaned off the rail, looking down at the intimidating, metal helix that disappeared into shadows. With a sigh, she started down them.
It couldn’t be more than three flights of stairs but, with no doors or breaks to distinguish floors, it felt like more. The steps clanged with each step of her heeled shoes.
She grabbed the rails on both sides, her fists clutching the metal as the curving height rattling her. Her whole body tensed, precise and exact with each movement.
She held her breath and watched her feet descend, the ground seeming to spin and churn beneath her. It wasn’t until she spied the dark, barely seen concrete floor through the shadowed slots between the steps that she realized how fast her heart was beating.
A dark, riveted, metal door loomed at the bottom of the staircase and again her heart pounded hard.
Was Peter behind the door? Was he waiting for her?
She tried to imagine what was about to come. A hidden dungeon? Private apartments? Would it be stark and spartan? Lush and luxurious?
She pushed open the door, the moment heavy around her.
There were huge boxes stacked against more concrete walls, heavy looking crates taller than she was. Storage. She was in the storage area, a strange, internal space as simple and sturdy as a heartbeat.
Her every footstep echoed in the cavernous space.
Her phone rang again. She answered it. “Peter?”
“Head straight,” he told her. “At the end of the hall, there’s a doorway. Go through it. There will be someone there to meet you. They’re acting on my orders. So you will do whatever they say, Katherina. Just as if I were the one saying it. Do you understand?”
“Good girl.” And then he was gone again.
Putting her phone in her pocket again, she walked down the unadorned hallway and through the large, industrial doorway.
“Hey there, Miss Kitty.”
She turned to find Hallie, her sweet southern drawl leading her down yet another winding walkway. “Hello.”
Hallie swept Kat into a tight embrace, lifting her smaller form off the ground. Squeezing her close for a moment before setting her down again, she looked Kat intently in the eyes. “Are you ready?” Excitement shone in the beautiful blond’s brilliant eyes.
Ready for what exactly? Kat wanted to ask, but she knew better. Knew that this was part of the game, her not knowing. The growing, gnawing anticipation of what would be. So she just nodded.
“Good.” Hallie beamed and pulled out a blindfold. “Turn.” She smiled with a swivel of her delicate, manicured finger.
So Kat did, keeping perfectly still as Hallie tied the long cloth over her eyes, blinding her from the world.
“Still ready?” Hallie carefully freed her hair from the knot.
Kat opened her eyes and saw nothing but black. Disoriented for a moment, she took a deep breath, holding out her arms to balance herself.
She instantly felt Hallie grip and squeeze her hands supportingly. Kat squeezed back and sighed. “Yes.”
“Wonderful.” Kat felt Hallie’s hands on her shoulders. “Come along then.”
Kat felt herself be led down the corridor that felt much longer without her sight. Hallie twisted her this way and that, whispering in her ear to watch out for cracks in the floor or sharp corners ahead, the sweet tickle of her breath making Kat shiver.
Finally, they stopped. Without a word, Hallie removed the suit jacket, easing it off of her as she guided her arms this way and that.
Completely blind, Kat could feel the warmth of lights and the prickle of gazes on her skin when Hallie’s hands disappeared.
Suddenly a little panicked, Kat’s head whipped to one side, then the other, her nostrils flaring and her ears on alert as her other senses strained to make up for the missing one.
“Shhh,” Hallie told her as her hands touched—stroked—her arms and shoulders. “It’s all right.”
Kat sighed and leaned into the comfort. It was nice. Soothing.
Hallie’s hands began to rub her neck, the scent of pine and piety slicking its way to her senses, as familiar and as strange as a long-passed memory.
Those soft, smooth hands moved lower, up and down the exposed valley between her shoulders. Over her shoulders and back, dipping beneath the thin spaghetti straps of her dress.
A hand began to play with her hair, fanning it over her back as others massaged her upper arms.
Kat stiffened suddenly. She mentally counted hands.
One at her neck.
Another cupped her shoulder.
Another was clutching her hip as yet another stroked her hair.
She stiffened and rolled her shoulders, instinctively recoiling from the now uncertain and unfamiliar hands.
“Shh,” Hallie said again, her oiled hands moving lovingly over Kat’s skin. “Just relax.”
Read Part Two Here