Is a lie
That makes us realize
Casey sipped her coffee and glanced out the thick plate glass window, the bottom of which was spattered with slush from the boots of passersby. Late afternoon Chicago rushed and sidled past in all of her shapes and colors, lit up by the weak November sun rays that ventured through gaps in the skyscrapers.
Her laptop was open with a prospectus from a new artist, but her focus wasn’t on it; she noted a trendy black jacket, heels that were out of place on the wet and messy sidewalk, and a handsome man with a chiseled jaw, barking into a cell phone, his coat flapping in the wind behind him. He didn’t look her way.
Irritated, she shot a glance at the table to her left. The two model types had lowered their voices just enough to make themselves obvious. It was the contrast that pulled her in, the sudden whispers. The ear, she thought, was as sensitive as the eye; it responded to a kind of aural chiaroscuro. Artists knew how to direct the gaze with their thoughtful application of lights and darks, side by side. But random people did it too, all the time, their unconcealed passions on careless display next to their everyday routine.
“So it’s Friday at eleven p.m.,” murmured the blond woman, her elegant chignon and makeup making her runway ready. “Here’s the address.” She slid a black envelope to her friend, a brunette with an intricate French braid up-do and black stiletto boots. “You only get in with the invitation the first time.”
When Casey saw the brunette’s face, she frowned, startled: It was like looking into a mirror. The brunette was in her mid-twenties, and her facial features and hair were so similar that Casey was riveted. Was this a secret twin her mother never mentioned?
Upon further inspection, differences materialized: This girl’s skin was a shade darker. Her jawbone was more defined, her forehead higher, her shoulders narrower. She had a small mole on her left cheek. Casey had longer lashes and lusher lips, and her brown hair was curlier. But still, if they worked at it, she figured the two of them could pretend to be sisters and fool half of an inebriated bar.
“Wear lingerie and heels. Sexy, but not vulgar. Don’t be nosy. The club safeword is mercy but they’ll listen to red. It’s elegant and formal, and kinky AF. If you divulge someone’s identity, they’ll kill you.”
“What?” The brunette sputtered on her coffee, and Casey struggled to contain her own reaction, still confused at seeing her doppelganger, let alone the nature of the conversation.
“Kidding! Sort of. No, I really am. But they’re serious about privacy,” the blonde warned. “I won’t be there because I have the shoot in Florida for the next three or four weeks. My dad’s letting me and another model stay at one of his ocean-front condos, we’re gonna get so turnt! But really, you’ll be fine on your own, Sofia.”
“No. I won’t be fine on my own.” The brunette’s voice was flat, with a trace of an accent. “I said I might want to visit, if you went with me, and I could dress regular, and didn’t have to—do anything. But, Kelsie, I wasn’t even serious.”
“But you said you were curious. You asked me all kinds of questions.”
“Curious, yes. But this sounds—freaky. And not in a good way.” Sofia’s shoulders tensed and her voice rose, and her eyes landed on Casey.
Casey tapped a key to unsleep her keyboard, made a show of typing something in her document. She must have averted her face in time for them to miss the resemblance to the brunette, because in a beat they turned away.
When they continued talking, it was in lower voices, and only random words escaped their table. “Lots of spanking—naked initiation—what?—sexy owner named Hunter—so hot—beautiful—not interested—”
“Look, take the invitation,” Kelsie hissed. She arranged her purse strap and wrapped a long cashmere-looking scarf around her neck. “Just say Kelsie Blair vouches for you, and give your whole name, Sofia Maria Madigan.”
“Wait. My name? How do they know my name?”
“Well, I sort of, you know, filled out the application on your behalf and gave them your name and Instagram and stuff. They need that so they can see your picture and do their background checks.” For the first time, Kelsie sounded unsure.
“You had no right. My picture?” Sofia’s eyes widened and her voice rose. “What the hell were you thinking?”
“I was thinking I was doing you a favor,” Kelsie argued. “Trying to be a good friend. Sorry if I want you to have fun, okay? A good surprise. God.”
“Don’t ever do me that kind of favor again. I don’t want this.” The brunette stood up, eyes narrow.
“Sofia. They’re very big on integrity, once you get vetted. I think you’d like it.” Kelsie hesitated. “Look. I’m sorry if I overstepped. I thought you’d be up for it, okay? Listen, when I get back from Florida I’ll tell Hunter you’re not interested.”
“Tell him now.” Sofia scowled. “Call him.” She pointed at the iPhone on the tabletop.
“I—can’t. I don’t have his personal number. They send me the meeting information texts from a ‘do not reply’ account. I only see him at the club.” Kelsie flushed and looked away. She bit her lip and her eyes welled up. “Please don’t hate me.” Her lower lip quivered. “You have the model look they love, and you’re young and beautiful. And rich. They like rich.”
Sofia blew out a long sigh and sat down. “How do I know they’re not going to come after me, or something, for turning them down?”
“No.” Kelsie shook her head. “They’d never bother someone who wasn’t interested. Look, if you don’t want it, toss out the invite. If you don’t show, they cancel your name and delete your info.” She gazed at her phone. “Although they might punish me if they find out I did the application for you. Or kick me out.”
“Kelsie! That sounds—troubling. Is this like, I need to call 911 for you? Remember, my dad’s a lawyer—”
“No.” Kelsie grabbed Sofia’s hand. “Anything that happens there is consensual. I love it there. I don’t want to get banned.”
Sofia shook her head. “I’m more concerned about me. I just got that contract with Cover Face Makeup, it’s my big break, and to keep it, I need to be squeaky clean. Please, Kelsie, don’t ever think of doing something like this again. Otherwise? My mom is also a lawyer, you know. A good one.” Her eyes were fierce. “This is not cool. You can’t mess with someone’s reputation.”
“I won’t.” Kelsie gave a weak smile. “I don’t want your mom after me. That time when your family took me with you all to Cabo? How she handled that sleazy condo owner? She’s awesome but scary.”
“I should never talk to you again,” said Sofia, scowling, “and you’re lucky we’ve been friends since kindergarten.” Something in her posture already spoke of forgiveness, perhaps the exaggerated motion she gave the eye roll, and Kelsie’s shoulders relaxed. Sofia rewound her own exotic scarf and picked up a handbag made of soft, buttery leather with no obvious brand names.
After Kelsie waved and strode off, her hips rolling in the easy walk of body confidence, Sofia sat there for a few more minutes, stroking her coffee cup and frowning, tapping her boot under the table, looking at the card. Finally she crumpled the paper, tossed the envelope and invitation at the trash bin. She left her coffee cup on the table, a blur of red lipstick on the rim. The door let in a puff of frigid air at her departure.
The papers landed not in the trash, but next to it. It was a visceral reaction: Casey was up before she even registered moving. The black envelope was soggy from boot slush, but the white invitation itself looked pristine, if crumpled, and Casey grabbed both of them, swiping the envelope on her jacket to remove droplets. She glanced around, wondering if people were staring at the weird trash-digger, but nobody seemed to care. A few heads bobbed to earbuds, hovering over laptops, someone was engrossed in a tablet, and a mom and several kids were engaged in a loud discussion about whether or not a second brownie was going to happen.
Heart pounding, Casey sat back down at her own seat facing the sea of moving people outside her window, but her attention was focused on the paper in her hands. She smoothed it out, trying to make it lie flat. The words were written in calligraphy on the front, and the back had an address. Dominion ~ Invitation Only ~ Friday at Eleven p.m.
She sucked in her breath. Club Dominion—exclusive club to the beautiful and wealthy. There had been a write-up on a local news blog about BDSM. They had interviewed members of long-standing dungeons, and someone had written about a top secret, sexy spanking-focused club that was so exclusive that even the members didn’t know where it was going to meet on a regular basis.
Casey had never known much about BDSM, domination and submission, but after reading a popular bestseller, something inside her awoke, something that hungered for a special kind of dark, erotic experience. She found herself buying more and more erotica books, Googling spanking videos, and envisioning startlingly sensuous combinations of pain and pleasure when she touched herself in bed alone, late at night.
She ran her finger over the words. Dominion. Invitation Only. This sounded like a place that might have what she wanted: Classy, sexy people who valued privacy and safewords, a glitterati of sultry dark artisans who could provide the stuff of fantasies. People who enjoyed the darker side of sex without getting too far into the shadows.
Too bad she didn’t have a model friend who passed out invitations like candy corn. Sofia was a fool, passing up this chance! Casey wished the invitation had her name linked to it in some sexy man’s computer.
Suddenly, a terrible, wonderful thought occurred to her: What if it did? Her heart raced. She bore more than a passing resemblance to Sofia. What if she went? Sofia didn’t plan to go, so she’d never know someone had used her name and discarded invitation to enter. Pangs of conscience thrummed, but Casey ignored them. She’d be quiet, careful, and respectful. They’d never know it wasn’t really Sofia. She’d go just once.
She smoothed the invitation again and planned her strategy. Fake tan, to make her skin darker, like Sofia’s. Makeup to hide her freckles and accentuate her cheekbones. Super tall heels to add an inch. Nobody looked exactly like their social media picture, and if she did an expert job with her appearance, surely she’d pass the eyeball test. After all, nobody was expecting an imposter.
She shouldn’t do it—it was wrong on several levels. Possibly even dangerous. Nevertheless, something inside her yearned to find out what it was all about, and she knew that this Friday, she’d be taking a cab to the exclusive address on the card, hoping for the experience of a lifetime.
“Casey, this is a shit idea.” Echo frowned, twirling a crotch-less G-string on her index finger until it whirled off. She scooped it up and put it back onto the display table, a mirrored vanity with gilt wooden carved edging. “You can’t impersonate another girl. You’re not in a James Bond movie.” She leaned forward to examine herself in the mirror, adjusting her long purple hair. “Right?”
Casey held up a pair of lacey red panties that were little more than strings and froth, and winced at the tag. “Fifty-seven dollars? For this? There’s more material in a Band-Aid.” She blew out a breath of air, held the garment up in front of her waist, and looked down, jutting out one hip. “Is it worth it? This is, like, half of my weekly salary from the gallery.” Not true, but still, they were more than she wanted to spend. Grad school loans were expensive and plentiful, and they didn’t get paid back early if their owner was prancing around in expensive underpants.
“Are you ignoring me because I’m the voice of reason and moral authority?” Echo took the panties and stuck them back onto a pile of identical ones. “If you’re going to be a lying slut, at least be a classy one. The red looks too 1980s hooker.” She picked up a black pair and tossed them to Casey. “Here. These are sexier. And look.” She pointed at the tag. “Only fifty-two dollars. You can put the difference into the collection basket at church to pay for your sins.”
Casey rolled her eyes. “Since when is club-hopping a sin?”
“Oh, I was talking more about pretending to be that poor Sofia girl. What if she finds out? Or what if she gets in trouble because you used her name?”
Pondering this, Casey picked up a black bustier and held it up in front of a mirror, and responded, “She’s not poor.”
“You know what I mean.” Echo gave her a look.
Sighing, Casey responded, “Well, that does bother me. But this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance. You know I’ve been wanting to visit a BDSM club, and this is the supposedly the classiest, most exclusive one ever. Also, milder than some of the public clubs around, from what I read. It’s like God wants me to go. That’s why he had that girl toss away the invitation right in front of me.”
“Jesus H.” Echo took the bustier and replaced it with a more translucent one. “Maybe it was a test to see if you could show some mettle and willpower. Total failure. Express train to hell, ticket for one, coming right up.”
“Whatevs.” Casey put back the lingerie and glanced around the boutique. “You know, it’s supposed to be sexy and hot and consensual. Apparently they honor safewords and it’s all… wonderful.”
“Supposed to be?” challenged Echo. “Milder, from what you read? Come on, you don’t even know what they do there for sure. You heard a ditzy woman discuss it in a whisper for—what? Two minutes? From the way you described her, she wasn’t Einstein and a half. What if it’s a place that, like, rapes women and steals them into sexual slavery? Maybe she’s a recruiter. She knew you were listening and wanted you to have that invite so they could use you as a sacrificial victim.”
“No! Echo, it’s not that. Anonymous contributors to the web article talked about how fantastic Dominion is. It was on a reputable site by a trustworthy blogger.”
“Oh, right. Because everything online is accurate and fair.” Echo rolled her eyes. “I just think this is a huge bad idea.”
“Well, I’m giving you the address and the fake name I’m using,” Casey argued. “And if I don’t call you by one a.m. to check in, then you can call the police. Okay?”
“Yes, but don’t you think that needing to have a safety call makes this a terrible plan?”
“I’m doing it. Are you going to help me look hot or not?” Casey put her hand on her hip and gave Echo a pleading look. “Come on. I need to pick a sexy, provocative outfit that’s not too whore-ible. Ha. You see what I did, there?” She smiled and wiggled her eyebrows.
Echo sighed. “Fine. Listen, I don’t know anything about BDSM club clothes, but I always believe that mystery adds. How about you wear a short black dress, with something sexy under it? That will make men look twice. It’s probably better to show up overdressed than under. I mean, you can—layer. Dress over G-string, and all that. Take it off if you need to.” Echo wrinkled her nose in a show of distaste.
“Excellent. You are truly a BFF worthy of a medal,” pronounced Casey. Feeling bold, she picked up the black panties and walked up to the register. “I can’t wait.”
“Did you or did you not get that invitation from the garbage?” Echo followed on her heels. “And don’t even say what I think you’re going—”
“One woman’s trash?” Casey smiled over her shoulder. “I prefer to use the formal French term. Objet trouvé. Found object. Picasso did it first, you know. Used something banal and attached it to a painting to make into a masterpiece. Others followed his lead and it turned into an entire movement. You really can take anything and make it into art. That’s all I’m doing.”
“Oh, I took that class in undergrad,” returned Echo. “Even us lowly drama majors have to learn the history of art. I know all about ready-mades. Just remember that you can call it a fountain all you want, but if it’s a urinal, you’re not fooling anyone.”
“Thanks, Ms. Duchamp.” Casey waved her hand. “Next up, why don’t you demonstrate how they talked in those silent films.”
Buying sexy lingerie was a thrill, but Casey felt nervy while she dressed on Friday evening. She did her hair up in a fancy French braid style similar to what Sofia had going on in the café, and paid to have makeup done at Sephora, including facial sculpting that hid her freckles, heightened her cheekbones, and slimmed her face. With the heavy evening eyes—smoky and sexy—and the dark red lipstick, she looked unlike herself. She added dangling silver earrings, a gift from her mother at her PhD graduation, and turned her head to watch them catch the light.
Casey had always been proud of her figure and knew she was considered pretty. But tonight, seeing her reflection dressed in the tight black dress and heels, all made up like a glamour queen, she felt a flutter of excitement. The woman looking back at her from the mirror was a different creature, someone confident, bold, and even magazine-cover worthy. She didn’t look like regular Casey, who wore jeans and a ponytail when possible, and who often had her head buried in a book about art history. No, this girl was—Sofia. Fancy, sophisticated, worldly Sofia, with a brand-name makeup modeling contract.
“Hi,” she practiced, making her voice soft and trying for the faint accent she’d heard in Sofia’s voice. “I’m Sofia Maria Madigan. I’ve been referred here by Kelsie.”
She cleared her throat and said it again, dropping the accent, feeling her heartbeat quicken. She couldn’t carry off an accent, so better to just let it go. Could she really do this? Echo was right—it was a bad idea in many ways. But in others, it was the most novel and creative thing she’d done in a long time, and the part of her that longed for something different and exotic took her out the door and into a cab to the exclusive Lake Shore Drive address near Lake Michigan.
In the private elevator to the thirty-fourth floor, she thought she might hyperventilate, and when the doors rolled open at the penthouse suite, she gazed at the chandeliers and gold-framed mirrors in the entryway. A man in a tuxedo stood by two wide gold doors, attentive and still.
Casey stood tall and walked with as much elegance as she could muster, and when she reached the man, she took the crumpled invitation and envelope from her clutch. She wasn’t sure if she should say anything, and when the man held out his hand, she extended hers and gave him the documents, hoping her fingers weren’t trembling. Her anxiety ratcheted into high gear when he frowned, turned, and spoke into his earpiece in French.
The doors opened, interrupting her mental machinations, and before her, without warning, stood the most handsome man she’d ever seen. She gasped, because he was quite literally the man of her dreams. It was no joke—every time she fantasized about her perfect hero, he looked like this, exactly like this. He was tall with broad shoulders, a chiseled jaw, thick brown hair, and green eyes. His chin had a slight dimple that she wanted to touch. His skin was smooth, slightly tan, his eyelashes thick and black. Her heart hammered, and for a split second she wasn’t sure where she was, whether she was awake or dreaming, and half expected to look around and find herself on the couch back in her apartment, after falling asleep to the Late Show.
He moved with a muscular grace and a muted power. He took the papers from the doorman and Casey noticed his strong fingers, his broad palms. She sucked in a breath. Thoughts from videos and books flowed through her mind.
You’ve been very disobedient, and I’m going to have to punish you now. Take off your panties and lie down over my lap. I’m only going to spank you longer if you delay, you know. There’s no getting out of this. It’s best if you just cooperate with your discipline.
She felt a surge of arousal in her core, a trail of sparks that made her whole body heat up. Those eyes were predatory, primal, and the gaze he laid on her was hot and lazy, an invitation and a challenge at once. She couldn’t look away; didn’t want to look away. She took a step closer without even realizing it, flushed, put her hand to her face. But she kept her eyes locked on his, feeling her pulse pound in her wrists and neck. She wondered if he could see it.
The man raised one eyebrow and looked at her, then at the invitation. “And you are?” His voice was rich and deep.
She cleared her throat and summoned her best Sofia. “Good evening. I’m Sofia Maria Madigan. I was referred here by Kelsie Blair.” She smiled, careful to keep it small and controlled and was pleased that her voice didn’t crack.
“Sofia.” He eyed her and looked at the invitation, crumpled; the envelope with a water stain and a slight grease mark.
“I wasn’t going to come,” Casey explained, keeping her voice low. “Then I changed my mind.”
He wrinkled his brow and gave her a long look, as if assessing something. He frowned, and Casey’s heart sank. But then he smiled, a wicked, dangerous smile, and something inside Casey melted. She felt like swooning into his arms, leaning into his chest, wrapping her legs around his waist. She wanted to touch those lips.
“Sofia—Maria—Madigan,” he said, handing back her invitation. “Welcome to Dominion.” When he leaned in to kiss her cheek, she made a small squeak and sucked in her breath, dizzy from his expensive cologne and the feel of his lips on her face, soft, gentle. He had the slightest hint of stubble on his cheek, and after the kiss, he pressed his cheek to hers for a second, and the rough touch made her tingle.
“Sofia,” he said, taking her arm in a grip that was easy but possessive. “I’m Hunter, your host. Let me show you around.”
“Yes, please, I would like that,” murmured Casey, trying to sound as Sofia-like as possible. His arm was like steel under the suit, and she gripped him harder than necessary, enjoying the feel of his warmth under the fabric. He slid his hand down to grip hers, and the feel of his fingers encircling hers was instantly erotic.
His eyes searched her face. “You are very sure?” A small smile played on his lips. “That this is for you?”