Emma hung up the phone, her heart thudding against her chest. Five minutes. She had five minutes before she had to be downstairs. She took one last look at her reflection in the mirror, barely recognizing the woman she’d become in the last months. The silk of her dress felt cold against her skin and she shivered. It was a gift, the dress; at least Damien had called it that. It wasn’t exactly though; it was more like giftwrap. She was being readied to be presented to the others. She’d be sold to the highest bidder tonight. The thought just made her cold now, and numb. But she’d have to get over what accepting money for the use of her body made her.
She brushed one stray strand of hair from her face and checked the clock. Time to go. Damien’s words played in her mind for the hundredth time: five thousand dollars for one weekend; three nights and two days of sexual submission. That was all. And it wasn’t like she was being offered to just anyone. These men were the cream of the crop, as Damien called them. She grabbed her wrap and put a stop to all thoughts. Damien didn’t know the first thing about her and that was how she wanted to keep it. She had her own reasons for doing this and after the weekend, once those days were over, she could walk away, start clean. Again.
* * *
Luke Roark wrapped a soft, cashmere scarf around his neck and grabbed his car keys. Running a hand through his dark hair, he stepped out into the cool night. Fall settled over Aspen, bringing with it a chill to the air. It wouldn’t be long now before the first snowfall.
Climbing into his car, he programmed the directions of the remote location into his GPS and set off. It had been a long time since he’d attended one of these parties, but tonight, he needed a woman. A willing woman with no strings attached. It cost money, but it was worth it. Luke Roark didn’t do relationships.
* * *
Emma stepped through the doors of The Blue Bar, which was set on the first floor of the posh Aspen hotel. Damien had brought her here last night and they’d talked through the final details of their arrangement, just business as usual for him. She’d sat there listening but not hearing much, wondering how she could ever have been drawn to him. But she had been.
The bar was more crowded than she’d expected it to be, given the time of year, but she wouldn’t know anyone here. She searched the room for him, aware of all the eyes that followed her. Goose bumps covered her flesh and she pushed away the voice that told her to turn around and go back home before it was too late.
Damien stepped into her line of vision. He was watching her, probably had been from the moment she’d walked in. Just like him to do that. He’d been calculating everything from their first meeting and as much as she didn’t want to admit it, it hurt. He was making her into a whore.
No, that wasn’t quite true. She made her own choices.
She swallowed the word down and walked toward him, determined to keep her anxiety hidden. As she got closer, she watched him take her in from head to toe, obviously pleased with what he saw. Her long, dark hair was piled on top of her head, displaying her slender neck, as he’d requested. The halter-top dress was tied with one simple bow at the back of her neck, all the easier to strip her of it. It was cut so that her shoulders and the whole of her back were exposed, unblemished alabaster skin curving around her small frame. He took his time, taking in every inch of her and she felt bile rise to her throat as she realized how many others would be measuring her up tonight.
She knew she should drop her gaze to the ground when he stepped toward her, but pride wouldn’t allow it. He was her pimp tonight; that was all. At least it wasn’t him she’d have to submit to.
“Emma,” he greeted her, taking her hands in his and kissing both cheeks. “You look lovely,” he said, his gaze sweeping her body again. “The dress is a perfect fit.”
“Thank you,” she said, her voice calm and even. She’d gotten good at hiding her thoughts and emotions, and in moments like this, it came in handy.
He brought his mouth close to her ear so that only she would hear his whisper when he asked, “Thank you, what?”
She shivered, but she had a role to play.
She glanced up quickly and her face flushed pink. “Thank you, Sir,” she whispered back. She’d only called him Sir when they were alone, never in a public setting, much less surrounded by so many people. She knew he liked the sound of it, the look on her face when she blushed. In fact, she liked hearing herself say it, just not in reference to him.
“Good girl.” He placed a hand at her low back and it took all she had not to pull away while he led her through the crowd to the bar. “Let’s get you a drink.” Ordering two glasses of champagne, they found a secluded corner.
She hadn’t been able to eat a thing and wasn’t sure how champagne was going to sit on an empty stomach. “Sir,” she began.
“Yes?” he asked, barely able to hide his pleased smile. She knew she played vulnerability well, likely one of the traits that had made him propose what he’d proposed.
“What exactly is going to happen tonight?” she asked. It was the same question she’d asked the last time they’d talked.
“That again?” he asked, looking bored. “Emma, nothing is going to happen that you haven’t agreed to,” he promised.
“What if I have to safeword?” she asked; this part made her nervous.
“You won’t have to; your limits will be respected.” She stared at him. “If you do safeword, you’ll be released from the contract immediately, but you won’t need to use it, Emma. Trust me.”
She wished she could.
“Are you changing your mind?” he asked. “Half of the money has been transferred into your account, but if you change your mind now, you can give it back…” He cleared his throat. Could he see her flinch?
“No, it’s not that,” she said, straightening her spine.
“Then what is it?”
“I’m just nervous, Damien. That’s all,” she snapped. “I’ve never done anything like this before.”
She could see the effort it took for him to soften his expression. He brushed a loose strand of hair away from her face and tucked it behind her ear. “I’ll be there with you,” he said. “You know I wouldn’t let anything bad happen to you. The men you’ll meet tonight, they’re going to fall in love with you. You’ll be the most beautiful woman there, among wealthy, powerful men.”
Emma watched his lips move as he spoke. Christ, he made her sound like a gold digger. She wasn’t interested in a rich boyfriend, never had been. In one more year, she’d have access to her own small fortune. She’d do what she had to do to survive until then.
Besides, the one thing she did have to give Damien credit for was that he’d sensed her need to submit before she’d been fully aware of it herself. Things just came about differently than she’d imagined, or hoped. She’d met Damien a few months ago at Club Exhale, a BDSM club. It was her first time there and she’d been scared as hell. She’d welcomed his attention then. Sex with him had been different than anything she’d experienced before and he’d whet her palate. Vanilla wasn’t enough anymore, never could be again. Submission made her feel more alive, more fulfilled than she’d ever thought possible and she knew with Damien, she’d just scratched the surface.
But she didn’t have feelings for him and had quickly realized that Damien had had plans for her all along. The seduction was just the cherry on top for him. When he’d first brought up the party they’d be attending tonight, he’d done it knowing she needed the money and understanding the fact that kink turned her on. He’d planted a seed. She’d been able to think of nothing else since. He’d pay her to experience something she wanted to experience anyway.
“Are you ready?” he asked.
She tried to push the anxiety building inside back down. She was out of options. He’d flown her out to Aspen and although he insisted she was under no obligation, she didn’t quite believe he meant it.
He set their drinks down and took her hands in his. “Look at me.”
She turned wide eyes to his. She hated playing the little vulnerable dummy with him.
“Answer me,” he said, sounding just a little less patient.
She searched his eyes and licked her lips when she turned her attention to his mouth. She knew he’d like that. “I’m ready, Sir.”
He smiled. “Let’s go, then,” he said, leading her to the exit.