Authors: Megan Hart
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He had been her sun, the star she circled endlessly. Helpless against the gravity she’d been unable to fight. She’d flown too close and melted her wings made of wax. She’d fallen.
Maybe she’d never been meant to fly.
Simone did not allow herself to wallow. She forced herself to eat, though every bite choked her. She forced herself to sleep, though sleeping meant she’d dream of him and those dreams were torture because in them, Elliott never turned her away. She got up every morning and forced herself out of bed and into the shower, no matter how much she wanted to stay under the covers.
She refused to let this break her, no matter how broken she felt. It was not the first time she’d given her heart to someone, after all. Or the first time she’d been hurt.
She’d get over it, she told herself when she was brushing her teeth and the woman in the mirror looked like a stranger. She would forget him, she reminded herself as she folded laundry and paid bills. She would move on, Simone tried to convince herself as she stood in the shower with the water pounding all over her and waited to stop feeling so. Fucking. Sad.
Now, tucked into her bed far too early for a weeknight, much less a Saturday, Simone tried to read a book and watch a movie on TV at the same time. Neither kept her attention, and though she’d slept until almost noon, she could barely keep her eyes open. When her phone hummed at her from its place in the speaker dock on her nightstand, she ignored it. It would be Aidan, and she was avoiding him.
The night of the breakup, she’d gone to him out of despair and anger and grief, and he’d given her the pain she needed so she could stop feeling all of those things. He’d give it to her again, if she asked him to, but though she wasn’t ashamed or regretful about what she’d done, Simone didn’t want to repeat it. The unthinkable had happened. She no longer wanted to fuck Aidan.
But she couldn’t tell him that. She still loved him, though that had changed, too. She didn’t want to hurt him, and though he would say he understood, he wouldn’t. Not really.
Halfway through another page, another call came through. Then a text. Simone ignored them both and burrowed deeper into her blankets. She’d lost the remote, which was a pain in the ass because she wanted to turn up the volume so she couldn’t even hear the faintest of peeps from her phone. Before she could find it, her doorbell rang.
There was no fucking way she was getting out of bed to answer it.
It rang again, and once more she ignored it. Diving on the remote, Simone turned up the volume even though she’d long ago stopped understanding what was happening in the movie. As she found the second remote to pause and rewind—not that she cared anymore what was happening, because she didn’t, she heard her front door open.
Simone froze. She made a quick assessment of the situation. Clad in only a belly baring T-shirt and tiny panties, she was the perfect random ax-murderer victim, at least according to every horror movie she’d ever seen. Home alone, underdressed, with only a TV remote as a weapon. Yep, she was going to get a machete to someplace soft. She was halfway to her closet to grab something she could use to defend herself, a stiletto could do major damage, after all, when her bedroom door creaked open.
Simone paused. “Corrina? What the hell?”
Aidan’s girlfriend, his
girlfriend, Simone reminded herself, pushed open the door a little further and peeked through, looking a little embarrassed. “Hi. Aidan gave me the key.”
Not sure what to say, Simone tossed the shoe back into the closet. She’d forgotten she’d given him a key, but that didn’t explain what Corrina was doing there. Unless it was to throw down in some kind of epic girl-on-girl catfight, and somehow, Simone doubted that. “Is he here?”
Corrina had the grace to blush and scuff a toe along the hardwood floor. “No. He sent me to get you. He said I wasn’t to leave until you came with me.”
“Oh, yeah?” Simone put her hands on her hips and gave the other woman a glare that didn’t seem to phase her. “Where’s he think you’re going to take me?”
Simone grimaced. “Oh. No. Oh, hell no! That place? No fucking way!”
“He told me you’d say that.” Corrina grinned. “I’m still taking you.”
“I’m not going to some throwback sex club where they play “Enigma” on a constant loop and everyone wears fishnets on their arms. No.” Simone had been to Leather a handful of times, back in the early nineties when it had all seemed crazy and decadent and debauched instead of cheesy and sad. The last time she’d gone with Aidan, both of them nostalgic for the days of dog collars and public floggings, they’d discovered the club had not kept up with the times. It had become seedy, dirty. Gross.
“It’s under new management. Aidan has a membership there.” Corrina said that like it made a difference.
Simone drew in a breath that hitched and caught in her throat, much to her dismay. She forced the burning in her eyes away. “I’m not going.”
“You’re going,” said Corrina, heading for Simone’s closet. “Aidan told me it would be very bad for me if you didn’t.”
Simone crossed her arms. “You like spanking, so he’ll spank you, what’s the big deal. I thought you got off on that.”
Corrina turned, slowly, with one of Simone’s black dresses on a hanger in her hand. Her brow furrowed, followed by a frown. A moment later her chin lifted. She looked Simone straight in the face.
“I love Aidan, and I want to make him happy. I thought you’d understand that,” she said icily, “even if you don’t agree with the way we work it.”
It was a slap, and one Simone supposed she deserved. “Look, it’s not my place to judge—”
“No. It’s not. So, don’t. Just get dressed.”
Simone tried again, backing toward the bed and sitting on the edge of it. “I don’t want to go to Leather. I don’t know why Aidan would want me to go, but if he’s going to punish you for something you can’t control, then he’s not being your dom, he’s being a dick.”
Corrina shrugged. “I want to please him. You understand that, at least, don’t you? Wanting to make the person you love happy?”
Simone burst into wracking, raucous, and completely horrifying tears. She buried her face in her hands, but it was too late. She was lost in the grief and pain of it all again. Being swept away.
The bed dipped as Corrina sat next to her and put an arm around her shoulders. She said nothing while Simone wept, handed her tissues when the snot got out of control and then got up to bring her a glass of water from the bathroom when Simone’s sobs had tapered off into a series of hiccupping coughs.
“I’m sorry,” Corrina said when Simone quieted. “It sucks. I know.”
“I am so fucked,” Simone whispered, half ashamed. “I love him, Corrina. Oh my god, I’ve never loved anyone this way. And I hate him for making me love him, when all I wanted was to fuck him. I love him, and I hate him, and all I can think about is how I don’t know how I’m going to spend the rest of my life without him in it.”
Corrina put her arm around Simone’s shoulders and said nothing. Just squeezed. Simone drew in a long, cleansing breath that did nothing to make her feel better. If anything, it reminded her body of all the bits and pieces that had once been filled up with him, and that were now empty.
“Aidan said you need to come because it will do you good,” Corrina insisted, then hesitated. She looked firmly into Simone’s eyes. “He said he still knows what you need, and if you won’t let him be the one to give it to you, at the very least, you should let him help you get it.”
* * *
Corrina had told her she was taking Simone to Leather, but the discreet sign posted by the door said the place was now called Briar. Simone liked that name better. Leather had evoked burly men in assless chaps parading their subs around on the ends of leashes, which was her last memory of the place.
Briar, on the other hand, made her think of pain.
The prick and sting of thorns. The sweet, sliding warmth of blood trickling and tickling down her back or over her breasts. With that thought, Simone’s nipples peaked into twin, tight buds that strained against the thin material of the black tank top she wore paired with formfitting skinny jeans and crimson ballet flats. She’d sleeked her hair back from her face, adding twin pin curls on her cheeks, but lined her eyes with thick black liner, the rest of her face pale. Mouth as red as the shoes, red as the apple the witch gave Snow White. Red as blood.
Still, she didn’t go in right away. Aidan had called ahead to arrange for her and Corrina to be allowed inside, but even if he hadn’t, Simone was sure she’d have been given entrance. It was that sort of night. Beside her, Corrina stood patiently, waiting for Simone to knock. She would wait however long it took, Simone figured.
Suddenly, Simone didn’t want to wait any longer. She didn’t want to hold on to Elliott. She didn’t want to cling to that love, because even though it hurt her and she craved and loved pain the way some women yearned for diamonds, bruises on her inner thighs were nothing like shredding her heart in the cheese grater of emotional upheaval.
He did not love her.
He did not want her.
“All right,” she murmured. “Let’s go.”
She pushed the door open, Corrina following behind, and entered not a dark hallway pulsing with a techno beat and lined with cages, but a small Victorian parlor. A lion-footed fainting couch dominated the space, and upon it perched a tall woman dressed in black. Leather, yes, but soft and fitted to her body like a second skin. Bustier, pants, spiked boots. Blond hair.
She smiled and stood. “Welcome to Briar. I’m Vera Delaney, I’m one of the administrators here. You must be Simone. Oh, hello, Corrina.”
Corrina cast her eyes downward. “It’s good to see you again, Vera.”
Vera held out a hand for Corrina to squeeze, then gave Simone a long, assessing stare. “Aidan said you’d need the royal treatment. It’s been a long time since you’ve been here, right? You used to come when it was called Leather.”
“Yes. Long time ago.”
“We’ve taken great care to make changes. Things are different here, now.” Vera tilted her head and gave Simone another smile. “I bet you’re different, too.”
To Corrina, she said, “Aidan’s waiting for you in the blue room, sweetheart. Go on back.”
Corrina nodded, and pushed through a beaded curtain, to the doorway beyond, and disappeared. Simone waited for Vera to say something. Vera didn’t, not for a few minutes, until at last Simone broke the silence.
“What am I supposed to do?”
“Whatever you want.” Vera paused. “Briar is a members-only club, though you’re Aidan’s guest tonight, and the other members are aware that you’re here. The rooms with closed doors are obviously off-limits except by invitation, but the main salon is open, as well as the library, the smoking room, and also the conservatory. Out the back, through the French doors.”
“Things really are different,” Simone murmured, remembering black-painted rooms with black lights and bare mattresses on the floor.
“Go and see how much,” Vera urged, one hand on Simone’s lower back.
Her touch sent a flutter of something through Simone. Not quite desire, but at least the promise of it, which was more than she’d felt in weeks. Without a look back, Simone went through the curtain and into the darkness beyond.
Many of the doors were closed, but a few were open, inviting an audience. She paused in one doorway to see a young woman wearing only a leather collar, the chain attached to it hooked to the floor by a large metal ring. The woman knelt between the legs of a naked woman who lay back on a pile of pillows, her legs spread. Pussy open to the collared girl’s mouth. Behind them both, a man with a thick cock, fully erect, watched from the depths of a leather chair and stroked himself.