Rhiannon Mirga, known at Club Wicked as Goddess, struggled to keep from slapping the bitch out of Doll, one of the newer servers. A pretty enough blue-eyed blonde, Doll was a classic “mean girl,” and Rhiannon had gotten into it with her more than once. Evidently Doll had her eyes set on a particular Master who wasn’t interested in her, and Doll blamed Rhiannon. The older woman seemed determined to try and chase Rhiannon out of the club through sheer bitchery, but Rhiannon had survived much worse than Doll, and there was no way in hell she was letting that woman intimidate her into leaving.
Unfortunately, Rhiannon had been told she had to take anger management classes to deal with her hot temper, and she’d been doing her best to keep herself under control. Mr. Florentine, the owner of Club Wicked, and someone Rhiannon adored, had asked her as a personal favor to try and not fight anymore. So far, she’d managed to respect his wishes, but damn, Doll was begging for a beating.
The blonde woman looked over from her spot three mirrors over as she was putting her boots on. “I love that outfit, Goddess. It makes your ass look so…lumpy.”
Staring into the mirror, Rhiannon pretended to be concentrating on straightening her long black hair and ignored Doll.
Her gaze flickered to the other woman as Doll spoke again, this time with a little more venom. “I guess the men you whore for here like it. Some guys just get off on cheap and easy trash.”
Rhiannon’s hand trembled just the faintest bit as she parted a new section of her hair. She could do this. She could keep her cool. Losing her temper wasn’t worth it; this woman wasn’t worth it. Since she’d started her anger management, in addition to her regular therapy, she’d been calmer, less likely to lash out like an abused animal at anyone who got too close to her. Her coworkers had noticed, and Rhiannon was even slowly, very slowly, allowing a few friendships to form.
So she ignored an increasingly angry Doll and continued with her routine. Tonight her job as a server would be a little different. She’d worked at Club Wicked for over three years now; she knew her job and was used to helping train new employees. But tonight she’d be working with one of the club members who, for whatever reason, wanted to be a server for the evening. Rhiannon just had to hang in here until Jessica arrived or another server came into the unusually quiet dressing room.
Doll stood and said in a voice oozing insincerity, “Did you hear that Master Hawk bought Sunny a new car?”
At the mention of the bartender who Rhiannon totally did not get along with, and the Master who was the reason for it, white-hot anger flared through her. Even though she knew Master Hawk was a negative trigger for her, even though she knew it was completely irrational because she didn’t want Master Hawk as a boyfriend, jealousy mixed with her ire, and she found herself counting from one to ten in first Spanish and then Manderine.
That managed to block Doll’s voice out, but when Rhiannon ran out of languages, Doll said, “Aww, what’s the matter, Goddess? Your feelings get hurt that Master Hawk thinks you’re nothing but trash? I’ve seen how he looks at you, like he’s disgusted. Not that I blame him. You’re nothing but a running joke around here, the bitch who thinks she’s too good for everyone when the truth is you’re nothing. Less than nothing.”
Oh, she was going to kill that bitch.
Rhiannon turned and met Doll’s smirking gaze. “I’m going to kick your fucking skank ass.”
Before she could stand, a woman’s soft voice said from behind her, “Goddess, don’t waste your time on that bitter old bitch. She’s so jealous that if envy were acid, the only thing left of you would be your earrings.”
That unexpected defense managed to snap Rhiannon out of her anger, and she looked behind her, surprised to see Jessica, the club member she was supposed to train. At barely five feet tall and curvy, Jessica didn’t exactly strike an intimidating chord, but the way she faced off against the much taller and bigger Doll made Rhiannon think of a kitten facing off against a tiger.
Doll glared at the other woman and opened her mouth, no doubt to say something nasty, but Rhiannon cut her off. “Doll, shut it. This is Jessica, and she’s a club member.”
Fury sparked in Doll’s eyes, and the lines around her mouth deepened in anger. They both knew that while some fighting between the staff would be tolerated, Doll would be shit canned in an instant for mouthing off to a club member. While it would be nice to not have to work with the blonde, Rhiannon really didn’t want to be responsible for Doll losing her job. Despite the fact that Doll was an überbitch, she had two teenage kids at home and was a single mother with Club Wicked as her only source of income. The poor kids probably suffered enough having the sharp-tongued and vain Doll as mother. Rhiannon wasn’t about to add to their burden.
While Doll gathered her shit and left, Rhiannon took her seat again and returned to getting ready as if nothing had happened. After a moment, Jessica sat down next to her and placed her bag on the floor with a thump. The two women looked at each other in the mirrors, and Goddess was surprised at the rather shy smile on the pretty Asian woman’s face. Gone was the feisty kitten who’d defended Rhiannon, and in her place was a woman who shifted uncomfortably beneath Rhiannon’s gaze. She’s spent some time with Jessica last night, going over the bar basics, but she hadn’t been around the other woman long enough to really get a feel for her.
Visibly screwing up her courage, Jessica said, “So, you ready to watch me mess up?”
“I’m sure you’ll be fine.” When Jessica wilted beneath Rhiannon’s cool tone, she had to remind herself that Jessica had just defended her, and that the comment had sounded bitchy. “From what I’ve seen you’re a quick leaner, a hard worker, and you’re pretty. You’ll be fine. I know going out there the first time as a server can be scary as hell, but I’ll be keeping an eye on you.”
Jessica beamed at Rhiannon, then started to dig through her bag. “I don’t know about all of that, but thanks for trying to keep me from freaking out.”
Rhiannon tried to subtly watch Jessica in the mirror as they got ready, puzzled by the other woman. The whole situation was odd. If playing at being a server for the night was a sexual kink or some kind of thrill, Jessica should be excited, but instead, the woman looked ready to bolt for the door. Jessica was a member training to be a submissive with two of Club Wicked’s Masters, Rory and Liam. Rhiannon didn’t know the men well; they rarely came into the public bar where she worked as a server, but in her three years working here, she’d never heard of a submissive who actually wanted to be trained on how to be a server. She wondered if serving at the bar was some kind of punishment, but Jessica didn’t seem upset by it.
She looked up into the large vanity mirror at Jessica and found the other woman staring back at her. “Yeah?”
“Can I tell you something?”
Frowning slightly, she leaned forward to check her makeup and shrugged. “Sure.”
“I’m kind of nervous. Like really nervous. Like I don’t know if I can do this nervous.”
That made her stop messing with her lipstick and really focus her gaze in the mirror on the other woman for the first time. It was easy to dismiss Jessica as just another pampered club member looking for some kind of thrill from doing a stint as a server, for whatever reason, but to see the uncertainty in the other woman’s eyes made Rhiannon want to reassure Jessica.
She shifted uncomfortably as she adjusted the straps of her glittering blue bikini top. Rhiannon had formidable walls around her heart, but she couldn’t maintain her usual cold disposition when Jessica had such a vulnerable expression.
Rhiannon gave Jessica a small smile. “What are you scared of?”
Jessica swallowed hard and looked down at the makeup on the table in front of her. “I…I have a fear of crowds.”
Out of all the things she’d expected Jessica to say, that wasn’t one of them. “What? You have a fear of crowds, but you want to work in a very, very crowded bar?”
“It sounds crazy, I know.” The other woman blew out a harsh breath. “I’m supershy, like to the point where I freeze up in public situations. That’s why I’m training with Master Rory and Master Liam.”
Trying to hide her surprise, Rhiannon turned to face Jessica. “I thought you were training with them for…you know…sex stuff.”
Jessica flushed bright red, then met Rhiannon’s gaze in the mirror. “That’s part of it, but mostly I’m training with them so I can learn how to love myself. How to be brave and go after what I want.”
Rhiannon knew all too well what it was like to hate herself, but it probably wasn’t for the same reasons as Jessica. At least she hoped it wasn’t. She wouldn’t wish her nightmare past on anyone. Shaking off those dark thoughts, she reached out and gently touched Jessica’s shoulder. “Hey, don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re a beautiful woman.”
Jessica gave a surprised laugh. “Are you kidding? Next to you I feel like an ugly duckling.”
“Stop that. Come here.” She dragged Jessica next to her and turned them to face the mirror together. “Look at yourself. You have the loveliest skin and exotic eyes. The Doms will be falling all over themselves for your attention.”
To Rhiannon’s surprise, Jessica leaned her head against Rhiannon’s shoulder and sighed. “I wish I looked like you. Perfect black hair, emerald-green eyes, and the body of a porn star. Except your tits are real.”
Jessica’s last statement startled a laugh out of Rhiannon. “Thanks, I think. But that’s just the outside. I’m like a hollow diamond filled with coal.”
She hadn’t meant for her voice to come out so bitter, but because she wasn’t talking with anyone other than her best friend about her feelings, she tended to be more open when she did let her guard down. Latisha, Rhiannon’s best friend who was known at Club Wicked as Mistress Onyx, often said that she wanted to kick Rhiannon’s ass for her distorted view of herself, but Rhiannon knew what she’d said was true. Yes, she was beautiful, but on the inside, she was so damaged no one would ever want her.
Lifting her head from Rhiannon’s shoulder, Jessica gave her a serious look. “That is the stupidest thing I’ve ever head.”
“You heard me. You’re beautiful inside and out. I don’t know who told you differently, but they should be whipped for making you doubt yourself.”
Disconcerted by the unexpectedly forceful tone in Jessica’s voice, Rhiannon pretended to look through her bag for something so she could avoid Jessica’s gaze. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Bullshit.” Jessica lowered her voice. “I want to tell you something, but it stays between us, okay?”
Rhiannon stole a glance at the other woman and nodded. It wasn’t like any of the servers really talked to Rhiannon anyway, but she didn’t tell Jessica that. “Okay.”
“The real reason I’m so shy, so scared of dominant men is because my first Master was a real shithead. I met him when I was eighteen, and he was much older. He mind fucked me so good by the time I got away from him, I was a pathetic mess. He made me believe I was worthless, less than worthless, that I was nothing.” Jessica drew in a shuddering breath. “It took me a long time to get past the bullshit that he programmed me to believe, but I’m not going to let him win, even when I feel like the battle’s already been lost. Can you understand that?”
Oh, Rhiannon understood that only too well; however the ability to speak was beyond her at the moment. Part of her wanted to tell Jessica that she knew exactly what she was talking about, but she couldn’t manage to get the words out, so instead she nodded.
Jessica gave her an understanding smile. “Mr. Florentine said you would understand, that I could talk to you. I thought he was crazy. You can be plenty intimidating when you want, but as usual he was right.”
Shock followed quickly by betrayal burned through Rhiannon. The owner of Club Wicked was one of the few people who knew her dark history, and she trusted him. To know that he was telling people about her past hurt her deeply. “What did he tell you?”
“Don’t look so scared. He didn’t tell me anything—just that I could talk to you and you would understand.” Jessica gripped her hands together so tight her knuckles turned white. “Please don’t be mad at him. He didn’t do anything wrong. I’m so sorry. I’m so stupid. I should have known not to say anything. I always mess things up.”
Seeing Jessica hunch in on herself, hearing the fear mingled with self-disgust in her words, gave Rhiannon the strength to push aside her own demons. “Jessica, stop it. Look at me.”
The other woman looked up, and Rhiannon’s heart ached at the tears swimming in Jessica’s eyes.
“It’s okay. I was just a little shocked. I don’t…I don’t talk about my past. It gives me really, really bad nightmares if I think about it too much.” She blinked back tears and turned back to the mirror. “So. You ready?”
Letting out an audible sigh, Jessica then said, “Yeah, I think so.”
“Don’t be so freaked out. We went over everything yesterday, and you have a great memory.”
“Thanks.” Jessica smiled at her with such joy that Rhiannon couldn’t help but smile back.
“You’ll be working in my section and Mistress Onyx’s. Don’t worry. She’s supernice.”
“What if I mess up?”
“Then you mess up. It’s not the end of the world.”
“I don’t want to disappoint you.”
Rhiannon looked at the other woman with surprise. “Why would you worry about disappointing me?”
Jessica stood and smoothed down the sheer black nighty she wore paired with a lacy black bra and panties set.
“Because I admire you.”
“You admire me?” The thought baffled her. “Why?”
“I’ve watched you work. You’re so elegant and confident. The way you move, it’s almost like dancing. I want to be like you.”
Rhiannon burst out laughing and stood as well, then gave Jessica a hug. “I wish I could be like you.”
“What do you mean?”
“You’re so nice.”
“I think you’re nice.”
Shaking her head, she then applied her glittering blue mask, once again slipping fully into her role as ‘Goddess.’ “Then you’re in the minority.”
“Well, maybe if you let more people know the real you they’d find out how nice you are. I admit I was intimidated as hell at being paired up with you, but Mr. Florentine was right. You are sweet once I got to know you.”
“Mr. Florentine said I was sweet?”
“Yep. He really likes you.”
She couldn’t help her pleased smile. Not only was Mr. Florentine her boss, but he was also a father figure to her. God knew her own dad wanted nothing to do with her. That thought made her stomach cramp, and she placed a hand on her belly, taking a deep breath and calming herself.
Dark thoughts threatened to break free from her mental prison, and she shook her head, trying to get her mind off the past. “Come on. Let’s get out there. If you don’t mind me asking, why did you want to learn to be a server?”
Jessica didn’t bother with a mask, so her blush was easy to see as they walked out the door of the dressing room and down the long hallway leading to the Hall of Mirrors bar. “Remember that being shy thing? Well, back in college before I met…him…I was a waitress. I was shy even back then, but while I worked, I found it easy to talk to men. Now I freeze whenever I try to talk to any of the single Doms, so Master Rory and Master Liam thought that maybe if I could meet some of the other members of Club Wicked while serving them, it might help me get over my fears.”
“Wow, Master Rory and Master Liam really know their stuff.”
“Oh, they do.” Jessica practically glowed with happiness. “Not only are they amazing Masters, but they’re really nice guys. And they give me multiple orgasms. What more could a girl want?”
Laughing, Rhiannon held open the door leading to the back section of the massive bar. “Sounds like they’re quite a catch.”
Jessica slowed down and audibly gulped. “Holy shit. It seems a lot bigger than yesterday.”
After the quiet of the hallway, the voices of the crowd that filled the Hall of Mirrors bar was indeed intimidating. “Don’t stress. I’ll take care of you. We’ll make sure you get the easy tables, and I’ll handle any of the assholes.”
Jessica licked her lips and looked over at Rhiannon. “Assholes?”
She nodded and motioned for Jessica to follow her. “There are some Masters here that don’t like to take no for an answer or think that just because we work here they can paw all over us. Don’t worry. You’ll be fine. See those big guys in the suits on either side of the room standing against the wall? Those are our bodyguards, and they’ll keep an eye on you. You’re smart, and Mistress Onyx and I will help you out. All you need to think about is keeping track of what Masters or Mistresses catch your eye.”
* * * *
Two hours later Rhiannon was at the bar talking with Latisha, now known as Mistress Onyx, while the other woman filled her drink orders. The tall, black Domme wore a cherry-red PVC catsuit that suited her lean frame and dramatic bone structure. Though she looked intimidating as hell, Latisha was her best friend—almost like an older sister. Some people might find their relationship odd, but when Rhiannon had first started working here, Latisha had taken Rhiannon under her wing, and they were very close.
Latisha returned with the drinks and smiled at Rhiannon before leaning over the bar and saying in a low voice, “I’m proud of you.”
Arranging the drinks on the tray, Rhiannon gave Latisha a questioning look. “About what?”
“For being so nice to Jessica.”
Rhiannon tried to fight a smile and looked down. “She’s easy to be nice to.”
“I mean it, honey. I’m proud of you. I know it’s hard for you to let anyone get close to you, but you’re missing out on so much by isolating yourself from everyone.”
Sighing, Rhiannon then took a quick glance around to make sure no one was listening. “I know you’re always harping on me to make friends, but it’s hard.”
“It’s only hard because you make it hard. If you didn’t act like such a bitch all the time, you might be surprised at how nice people can be to you when you aren’t pushing them away.”
They’d had this discussion so many times Rhiannon could almost recite it word for word. “I’ll try.”
“Don’t try. Do.”
“Yes, Mistress,” she said with enough snark that Latisha gave her a narrow-eyed look that would have sent most submissives running.
Rhiannon was so busy focusing on Latisha, she didn’t even notice Jessica until the other woman stood at her side.
The Asian woman blew out a harsh breath. “That jerk!”
Immediately Rhiannon gave Jessica her full attention, her internal alarms going off at the anger rolling off the other woman. “What’s wrong?”
Jessica set her tray down and clenched her hands into fists. “It’s Master Curt. He’s such a fucking dick. I swear if he tries to ‘accidentally’ grab my tits one more time, I’m going to deck him. Oh, and he wants a refill on his vodka tonic. Thank God it’s the last one he’s allowed to have tonight.”
Rhiannon turned casually so she could glance over Jessica’s shoulder at the man in question. Master Curt was a blond-haired blue-eyed middle-aged Dom who had been a pain in Rhiannon’s ass the entire time she worked here. He liked to prey on new submissives, spoil them with expensive gifts, seduce them fast, then dump them just as quick. If that wasn’t bad enough, he also got off on playing submissives against one other. She’d seen him manipulate women so skillfully that she didn’t think anyone else noticed, certainly not the women involved.
He’d tried that shit with Rhiannon and another server, but Rhiannon considered him a total douche bag and didn’t care if he dated every server at Club Wicked. He was all about the chase, and since he’d been chasing Rhiannon for years he was especially aggressive with her. She knew how to handle him and how to avoid his grabby hands. He never did enough to get him kicked out, but his “accidental” gropes were infamous among the servers.
“I’ve got it, Jessica.”
“Are you sure? Master Curt was asking about you and telling me about some rather yucky things he wanted to do with you. Gah, did you know he likes to pee on people?”
Rhiannon rolled her eyes. “Yeah, he used to try and shock me with that until I threatened to pee in his drink if he didn’t shut up.”
With a laugh, Latisha shook her head. “He’s such an egotistical jerk.”
Straightening her shoulders, Rhiannon then motioned to Latisha. “Give me his order.”
Jessica chewed her lower lip. “I don’t know if it’s a good idea. He seems kind of drunk and obsessed with you. He kept on asking about you.”
“I’ll be fine. Go see if your Masters want anything.”
After giving her an uncertain look, Jessica nodded and headed through the bar in Master Rory’s and Master Liam’s direction on the other side of the room.
Rhiannon picked up the tray with Master Curt’s drink and the rest of her orders. She filled her other customers first, smiling and turning on the charm for her patrons. This job was her only source of income, so she’d gotten good at working the crowd, chatting and flirting with her regulars when they wanted her to, being polite and quiet when they didn’t.
Turning to the seating area a few tables away from Master Curt, avoiding him as long as possible, she smiled at the sight of Master Jesse and his submissive, Dove. The pretty and buxom blonde woman had been a server for a brief time at Club Wicked. Dove was friends with one of the bartenders, Sunny, who Rhiannon did not get along with, but Dove seemed to go out of her way to be nice to Rhiannon. At first Rhiannon had been suspicious, wondering if the woman was trying to become friends so she could somehow help Sunny hurt Rhiannon, but she’d soon realized that the other woman was just genuinely pleasant and didn’t have a mean bone in her body.
Tonight Master Jesse was wearing a brown leather vest with no shirt beneath, revealing his toned physique. He had a neatly trimmed reddish-brown beard and a nice amount of hair that covered his muscular chest. While he was a good-looking man in his own right, the way he looked at Dove with such open love and devotion always made Rhiannon slightly envious. It must be nice to have someone to trust and adore as much as this couple obviously cherished each other.
Dove leaned forward to take her glass of champagne and orange juice, the large diamond engagement ring on her finger glittering beneath the golden lights. “Thanks, Goddess.”
“You’re welcome.” She handed Master Jesse his beer and glanced at her tray, not wanting to serve her last drink. “Is there anything else I can get you?”
Dove tilted her head, her blue-gray eyes watching Rhiannon intently. “Are you okay?”
Aware that Master Curt was within hearing range and not wanting to give him any power over her by the knowledge that he made her uncomfortable, she gave Dove a bright smile. “I’m fine. Just a long night.”
Master Jesse shot Dove a curious look, and Rhiannon took a step back.
“Please let me know if you need anything else.”
Rhiannon turned and took the four steps necessary to bring her to where Master Curt sat. As soon as their gazes met, he gave her a wide smile that reminded her of a shark baring its teeth. Tonight he wore his usual suit and tie, looking more like he was going to a business meeting than a BDSM club. His gold and ruby pinky ring flashed as he motioned for her to come closer.
“Goddess, my pet. Where did that delicious little submissive that was serving me go?”
“She had other things to attend to, Master Curt.”
“So you came to see me instead.” He stroked his lips with his fingertips and gave her a look that made her very uncomfortable.
He sat forward, crowding her as she maneuvered her tray to set his drink down. The reek of alcohol came off his breath, and she wondered if Jessica had been right and he was drunk. If he was, he must have somehow conned an extra drink or two out of a server at one of the other bars. Clenching her teeth, she quickly put his drink down, wanting to get out of his reach as quickly as possible.
From across the room came shouts; then a woman screamed, and Rhiannon looked for the source of the noise, her gaze landing on two Masters who were now duking it out with a horrified-looking female submissive trying to break them up. The bodyguards moved in on the scene, and she felt Master Curt grab her hips. Mad at herself for not being on her guard, for believing that she was safe here, Rhiannon tried to twist out of his grip.
Unfortunately she moved too slow. He managed to pull her down onto his lap, knocking over the glass in the process and soaking her bare stomach with the booze. She tried to push out of his arms, her heart racing as a stinging sweat broke out all over her skin. Fear flooded her. His restrictive hold triggered her terror even as she struggled to fight off both it and him. He fisted his hand into the back of her hair, pulling hard enough to really hurt.
“Fucking cock tease,” he said in a low, dangerous voice. “I’ll teach you to say no to me.”
The words ricocheted in her head like a bullet gone awry, taking her back in time to a place where her kidnapper had said almost those exact words while he beat the shit out of her. For a brief, terrifying moment, she wasn’t in Club Wicked but rather strapped to a bed with handcuffs that bit into her wrists while she tried to avoid the fists coming down on her unprotected torso, her chest, her face. Master Curt must have taken her lack of resistance as encouragement, because he shoved his hand beneath her bikini top and grabbed her breast in a punishing grip. Staring into her eyes with an evil smile, he squeezed hard enough that his fingernails dug into her skin.
Pain from her past and present merged, and she descended into a full-out panic attack.
Screaming, she clawed at his arms and face, trying to get him to release her. He probably only held her for a second, but by the time she’d managed to get free, his face was bleeding from where she’d scratched him. With a roar he stood and backhanded her, knocking her on her ass. She tried to scramble away, only to get picked up by a pair of strong arms while all around her male voices were raised in anger. Still shrieking, she kicked at the person holding her, making them drop her.
“Don’t let him touch me,” she begged in a broken cry. “Please don’t let him hurt me!”
Overwhelming fear sent her running as fast as she could from the room, everything around her blurring, becoming indistinct as she ran with her breath searing her lungs and her heart racing so fast she became light-headed. Her fucked-up mind insisted that she was going to die if she didn’t run and hide.
Everything went blank for a little bit. As awareness returned, she became conscious of a woman’s gentle voice saying, “Goddess, honey, it’s okay, please come out.”
A hard shudder racked her, and she realized she was making a high-pitched, wounded noise. She stopped, confused as to where she was and what was going on. She realized she was beneath a desk and that Dove was kneeling a few feet away, mask off to reveal her face. Rhiannon’s dazed mind tried to make sense of why the pretty young blonde woman was crying, but her thoughts were still too scattered.
Dove held out her hand again. “It’s okay, honey. No one’s going to hurt you. I promise you can come out.”
Licking her lips, she slowly uncurled from the fetal position and glanced around. As the fear receded, humiliation took its place. It had been a long, long time since she’d had a panic attack like that, and she tried to think of what had happened. She remembered Master Curt grabbing her, then his bloody face, then…fear. Before the fright could drag her under again, she forced herself to focus on something mundane, and her gaze fell on Dove’s manicure. The woman had her nails painted pink with a white pattern overlaying the pink that looked almost like lace. Focusing on a minute detail was a trick her therapist had taught her when she was trying to fight off a panic attack, to focus on something normal, something that had nothing to do with her triggers. In this case, Dove’s soft hand and her lovely nails.
Pretty, feminine, safe.
She reached out and allowed Dove to help her out from under the desk. As she stood and looked around, she realized she was in one of the managers’ offices. They were alone, and when she stood and tried to pull her hand away, Dove wouldn’t let her.
“Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” Rhiannon murmured and looked away, so ashamed that she’d cracked in public. Everyone must think she was a psycho. Fuck. She’d worked so hard, had come so far, but no matter how hard she tried she couldn’t escape her past. “Where’s Latisha?”
“Oh, she’s with Mr. Florentine dealing with that fucking asshole Curt right now.” Gently tugging her hand, Dove led her over to the small gray leather sofa on the other side of the room before making her sit down. “What happened back there?”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Rhiannon whispered.
To her shock, Dove threw her arms around Rhiannon and hugged her. Rhiannon gasped. “What are you doing?”
“Just shut up and let me hug you.”
The anger in the woman’s voice startled her, and she tried to pull away again. “I don’t understand.”
“Look. Either you let me hug you and try to make it all right, or I’m going to go out there and kick Curt’s ass.”
The mental image of sweet, gentle Dove trying to kick anyone’s ass just didn’t work. “What are you talking about?”
Dove squeezed her hard enough that Rhiannon had trouble taking a deep breath. “I saw what he did to you. He’s lucky Master Jesse held me back, or I would have given him a matching set of scratches on the other side of his face. I’m sorry we didn’t get to you sooner. I was distracted by Master Kyle and Master Perry fighting.”
Despair filled Rhiannon at the memory of what she’d done to the man’s face. “Shit. I’m going to be fired.”
Releasing Rhiannon, Dove then leaned back and shook her head empathetically. “Hell no, you aren’t. I saw what he was doing to the new server girl all evening. I was about to have Jesse say something to him, but when you took over his table, I figured you had it handled. I mean, no one wants to fuck with you.”
Dove flushed. “I mean you’re a badass.”
She blinked, not quite sure what the other woman was talking about. “I don’t understand.”
“I just mean that you can handle yourself. You have that ‘don’t fuck with me’ attitude that usually keeps people in line.” She frowned and looked down at Rhiannon’s breasts, then back up to her face. “Did he bruise you?”
She touched her chest and lifted her bikini top, wincing at the sight of the purple crescent-shaped marks from where he dug his nails into her skin. “I’m okay.”
“Let me see.” Before she could protest, Dove wrenched her top to the side and made a disgusted sound. “That fucking asshole. We need to put some antibiotic on those scratches. No telling what kind of messed-up diseases he has. Do you know where the first aid kits are?”
“Hold on.” Dove jerked open the door to the manager’s office, and Rhiannon flinched at the sight of Mr. Florentine talking with Master Jesse.
Dove said in a commanding voice, “I need a first aid kit.”
Both men looked over Dove’s short head to Rhiannon, and she wanted to just disappear. No doubt she’d be fired, no matter what Dove thought. This was the third time she’d gotten into a physical altercation with an overzealous Master, but this time, she’d really hurt the guy. The memory of the blood dripping off Master Curt’s chin made her nauseated, and she put her head between her legs, trying to keep from throwing up. Fuck. She’d tried so hard, given her all during her anger management therapy, and it still wasn’t enough.
Mr. Florentine’s deep, authoritative tone came from right next to her. “Rhiannon, are you all right?”
Tears welled in her eyes as shame filled her over her actions. “I’m so sorry. I’ll gather my things and go.”
Dove’s voice rang out through the office. “You can’t fire her! She didn’t do anything wrong. She—”
When the woman’s shout abruptly cut off, Rhiannon looked up to find Master Jesse had put his hand over his fiancée’s mouth.
“No one is getting fired.”
Rhiannon looked over at Mr. Florentine. “I’m not?”
He shook his head, looking as dashing as always in his three-piece suit and carefully styled silver hair. “No, you’re not. Jesse and a few of your other friends who’d been watching stood up for you and told me what happened.”
“My friends? I don’t have any friends.”
Mr. Florentine patted her cheek. “You may not realize you have friends, but you do. Like that little blonde spitfire over there.”
Jesse released Dove, and she frowned at him before going over to Rhiannon and kneeling before her. “Gentlemen, can I have a moment alone with her, please?”
When the door had shut and Rhiannon was once again alone with Dove, she studied the blonde, unable to understand what was going on and why Dove was here.
Before she could say anything, Dove took a deep breath, then sat on the couch next to her. “I have something to tell you, and you might not like it, but you have a right to know.”
Dread filled her as a million and one horrible things went through her mind. “What is it?”
Dove looked her in the eyes. “I know what happened to you—how you were abducted and abused.”
If Dove had slapped her across the face, she couldn’t have been any more shocked. “What? How? Who told you?”
The blonde flinched but continued to hold her gaze. “I swear I wasn’t spying on you. It was months ago, before I went to Paris. I got lost while I was trying to find the conservatory, and I stumbled on you talking with Mistress Onyx.”
She tried to remember when that could have been but came up blank. “What did you hear?”
“You talked about being kidnapped, but I left before I heard much more than that.” She looked away, then swallowed hard and met Rhiannon’s gaze again. “Please don’t be mad. I really wasn’t trying to spy on you.”
Angry that the other woman had invaded her privacy, terrified at the thought that she may have told others about what she’d found, Rhiannon jerked away from her. “How dare you!”
“I know. I know it was shitty, but I swear I wasn’t doing it to be mean.” Dove’s lower lip trembled, but she squared her shoulders. “I haven’t told anyone what I heard. I swear.”
“I’m serious. I would never tell anyone.” Tears streaked down Dove’s cheeks. “I’m so sorry that happened to you, Rhiannon. Even though I don’t know the details, I can see how it’s affected you, and it hurts my heart.”
Dread filled Rhiannon at the thought of Sunny finding out about her. Even worse, for Sunny to figure out that Rhiannon’s obsession with Master Hawk, Sunny’s kind-of boyfriend, was because he resembled her abuser. She’d learned through therapy that her attraction to a man who looked like the man who’d abducted her wasn’t unusual—that it was her mind’s way of trying to deal with the trauma—but she was still ashamed of it.
The thought of Master Hawk and Sunny made her stomach clench. Even though Rhiannon had legally changed her name after the trial, and she looked different now, she feared that if Sunny dug deep enough, she’d figure out who Rhiannon was or at least who she used to be. Deep down she knew Sunny wasn’t a bad person, but they had a lot of negative history between them, and they constantly fought. The last thing she needed was Sunny bringing up her past during one of their public confrontations.
“Oh, God. You didn’t tell anyone, did you?”
“No, absolutely not. It’s not my place to tell anyone. I didn’t even say anything to Jesse, and I don’t keep any secrets from him.”
“Please don’t tell him. If you tell him, he’ll tell Master Hawk.”
Dove bit her lower lip, then released it. “Does Master Hawk know about your past?”
She flinched, the memory of the one night she’d tried to do a scene with Master Hawk flashing through her mind. Though at the time she didn’t realize it, in her own fucked-up way, she’d been trying to replace bad memories from her abduction with good memories with Master Hawk. To have control in a situation similar enough to her abduction so that it would somehow banish the demons from her past. It wasn’t a rational thought or one she was even really conscious of having, but after that disastrous night and some intense therapy sessions, she’d realized why she’d been obsessed with Master Hawk, and had been disgusted.
“I… Master Hawk tried to do a scene with me—just bondage, no sex—but it… I had a flashback to when…you know.”
“That would explain a lot,” Dove murmured with a distant look in her eyes.
“What do you mean?”
“He’s very protective of you. It drives Sunny nuts, but I couldn’t figure out why since you seem to avoid him completely and he—please don’t take this the wrong way—he doesn’t seem interested in you sexually.”
A harsh laugh managed to escape Rhiannon. “I bet not.”
Dove opened and closed her mouth a couple of times before sighing. “I’m so sorry you got hurt. I’m sorry I didn’t send Jesse over there sooner.”
Rhiannon’s head began to ache, and she closed her eyes. Already they’d talked about her past to the point where she was sure she’d have nightmares tonight, which meant Latisha would have to spend the evening with her. “What do you want, Dove? Why are you here?”
“I want to be your friend.”
Rhiannon watched Dove in confusion as the blonde lifted her chin looking adorable yet formidable at the same time. “I want to be your friend.”
“Stop giving me that suspicious look. I want to be your friend because I think you’d make a good one.”
“You aren’t making any sense.”
Dove stood and approached Rhiannon slowly before reaching out and putting her hand on her shoulder. “Is it so hard to believe that I think you’re nice when you’re not trying to shove people away? I think underneath your bitchy exterior you’re funny, kind, and that I would be lucky to call you my friend. And it’s not because I feel sorry for you, though my heart does ache for the pain you endured, but because my heart tells me it’s the right thing to do, and I always listen to my heart.”
Rhiannon studied Dove, trying to figure her out. Part of Rhiannon wanted, desperately, to believe the blonde woman, but the wounded portion of her soul shivered at the thought of trusting anyone. Then again, she was tired of being alone. Yes, she had Latisha, but lately, she’d been yearning for what Dove was offering: a chance at being normal again, at being able to go out and do fun things with other women. If she was being totally truthful with herself, she’d also begun to want a man in her life as well, but all her past relationships had left her both sexually and emotionally unfulfilled.
“I don’t know if I’ll be a very good friend, but I’m willing to try.”
“Yay!” Dove threw her arms around Rhiannon and squeezed her tight. “I promise you won’t regret this.”
Relaxing just the slightest bit, she hugged the curvy woman back and let out a shuddering sigh. “Please don’t hurt me.”