Beautiful Stranger [Beautiful Series]

Fourteen

At three in the morning, I woke up with such an absurd idea I was immediately positive I should go get a shot of whiskey so I could fall back asleep.

But I didn’t get up, and I didn’t have a shot, and I most certainly didn’t go back to sleep.

I was up half the night, my mind spinning over what to do with Sara’s paradoxical need to remain a secret yet still explore her wilder side with me. Admittedly, she’d been more relaxed than I expected about the photos in the Post, but we’d been lucky, and they hadn’t actually gotten her face or anything too telling. Anything more revealing could turn her skittish, if that hadn’t happened already. I could tell she had feelings for me beyond the adventure of public orgasms and our shared exhibitionist fetish, but that was a far cry from anything lasting, and miles away from what I felt about her.

I sat up, lit with an idea and wondering if I’d be mad to try this with her. At the same time, it struck me as the perfect solution. Sara clearly got off on the idea of being seen, on the idea of someone watching her orgasm. I wanted to show her that sex could be fun, and wild, and alive even in a relationship that grew into something deeper. And yet she wanted to remain anonymous, and I most certainly didn’t want to end up with my trousers down—literally—on the subway, or at the movies, or in a cab. Sara had been quick to brush off the photos this time; my nagging worry was that she wouldn’t be so forgiving if it happened again.

I looked at the clock and knew it wasn’t too early to call. If I knew him at all, Johnny French hadn’t even gone to bed yet.

The phone rang once before his gravel-and-smoke voice answered with a simple “Max.”

“Mr. French, I hope it isn’t too early.”

He let out a rumbling laugh. “Haven’t gone to bed yet. What can I do for you?”

I exhaled, relieved with the sudden realization that this might actually be the best solution. “I have a situation that I believe requires your help.”

When Sara answered the phone, I could hear the smile in her voice. “It’s a Wednesday,” she said. “And not even eight in the morning. I think I like these new rules.”

“I think we’re kidding ourselves if we believe this is a rule-driven arrangement anymore,” I said.

It was a long moment before she answered, but finally she murmured, “I suppose you’re right.”

“You’re still okay about the Post?”

A small pause before, “Yeah, actually.”

“I thought about you all day yesterday.”

Again, she fell quiet and I wondered if I’d gone too far. And then she said, “That’s kind of been true for me for a while.”

I laughed. Too right. “Me, too.”

Silence filled the line and I braced myself for the possibility that she would say no to this.

“Sara, I think we should be a little more careful about where we choose to be intimate. Until now, we’ve been careful but mostly we’ve been lucky. I care more now that this doesn’t become a scandal for us.”

“I know. Me, too.”

“At the same time . . .”

“I don’t want to give it up, either.” She laughed.

“Do you trust me?”

“Of course. I’ve let you take me to a warehouse—”

“I mean really trust me, Sara. I’m planning on taking you somewhere very different.”

This time, there was no hesitation. “Yes.”

I figured a Wednesday was a good day to start. No doubt Johnny had customers every night of the week, but he warned me that Fridays and Saturdays might be overwhelming for both of us, and Wednesdays tended to be the quietest.

I’d texted that I’d pick her up at her apartment after she’d had a chance to change after work, and eat some dinner. Was I being a pussy for not taking her out to eat, for fear she might balk at this plan if she had too much time to think it over?

Absofuckinglutely.

A brunette emerged from Sara’s building, head down as she fumbled with something in her small bag. It’d been true for a while that I had eyes only for Sara, but even I was unable to look away. The woman wore a dark blouse, skirt, high heels. Her inky hair was glossy in the streetlight overhead, and cut short—just to her chin. She looked to the right, and I saw a long, delicate neck, smooth skin, and perfect breasts. I knew that neck, knew those curves.

“Sara?” I called. She turned and I felt my jaw drop. Holy shit.

She smiled when she saw me leaning against the car. I waved Scotty off when he emerged to open the door for her, and let her in myself.

She placed a shiny, red-tipped finger under my chin and closed my mouth. “I’m assuming you approve,” she said, grinning as she took her seat.

“That would be an understatement,” I said as I climbed in next to her and reached out, brushing a strand of dark hair away from her face. “You look fucking beautiful.”

“It’s great, right?” she asked, shaking her head a little. “Figured if we were going to be serious about this cloak-and-dagger stuff, I might as well have a little fun.” She slipped off her shoes and tucked her feet under her legs on the backseat. “So, are you going to tell me what’s going on?”

As soon as I’d recovered, I leaned in and kissed her red mouth. “We have a little bit of a drive. I’m going to tell you everything.”

She trained her patient eyes on me and I had to remind myself not to take her in the car. To work her up a little for this. Dark dance clubs were one thing, and she’d been drunk; this was something entirely different.

“One of my earlier clients was a man named Johnny French. I’m almost positive it’s an alias; he strikes me as the kind of guy who has a few different names, if you know what I mean. He came to me for help with opening a nightclub in a pretty run-down building. He’d done it before, successfully, but wanted to explore how it would work with a venture capitalist firm attached that had more legitimate connections in the marketing world.”

“What was the club called?”

“Silver,” I told her. “It’s still open, and it does very well. In fact, we’ve made a good amount of money on the collaboration. Anyway, Johnny keeps his habits pretty tightly buttoned up, but in the process of our due diligence, he explained to us that he needed the larger successful business to support his smaller interests.”

Sara shifted a little in her seat, seeming to understand that I was getting to the point of the evening.

“Johnny owns a number of other venues. He owns a cabaret in Brooklyn that’s done very well.”

“Beat Snap?”

I nodded, a little surprised. “You’ve heard of it.”

“Everyone’s heard of it. Dita Von Teese was there last month. We went with Julia.”

“Right. And Johnny also has some less-well-known venues. The place we’re going tonight is a very secretive and protected club called Red Moon.”

She shook her head. Even if Sara had been born a New York native I was fairly sure she wouldn’t recognize the name. I reached into my jacket and pulled out a small bag from the inner pocket. Her eyes were trained on my hands as I undid its cord and pulled out a feathered blue mask.

I leaned forward and placed it over her eyes, reaching around to tie it behind her head. And then I looked at her and almost lost my will to hold back from touching her. Her eyes were visible, but her face was covered from eyebrows to cheekbones, and her full red lips curved into a tiny smile under my scrutiny. Tiny rhinestones lined the eyes, and from behind the mask her brown eyes seemed to glow.

“Well, isn’t this mysterious,” she whispered.

I groaned. “You look like something out of a very wet dream.” Her smile widened and I continued. “Red Moon is a sex club.”

In the low light I could see a shiver pass through her. Remembering one of our first nights together, I assured her, “There are no shackles or spreader bars . . . at least, they aren’t the primary attraction. The club caters to a very high-end voyeuristic crowd. People who enjoy watching people have sex. I’ve only been there one time, during this due diligence process, and was sworn to absolute confidentiality. On the main floor, Johnny has some truly stunning dancers who are intimate in beautifully complicated, choreographed ways. The rest of the club has rooms where, through windows or mirrors, you can watch one thing or another.”

I cleared my throat and met her eyes. “Johnny has offered to let us play in a room tonight, if you want.”

To all outward appearances, it was a basic, run-down building housing assorted businesses, including an Italian restaurant, a hair salon, and a boarded-up Asian market. The only other time I’d visited, Johnny took me in through a back entrance. The door he’d told me to use tonight was apparently the main entrance, an unassuming battered steel door off the alley, and required the key he’d had messengered over to my office that afternoon.

“How many people have a key?” I’d asked him on the phone.

“Four,” he’d told me. “You’re five. It’s how we keep track of who comes in. Random Joes can’t get there. We have a list for each night. Guests phone Lisbeth at the desk and she sends security up to retrieve them.” He paused. “You’re lucky you’re my favorite, Max, or you’d be waiting months.”

“I appreciate it, John. And if it goes well tonight, I’m pretty sure you’ll want to let me bring this one back every Wednesday.”

Pulling out the key and faced with the reality of what we were doing, I started to grow more and more excited. I led Sara down the alley, her hand clammy in mine.

“We can leave anytime,” I reminded her for the tenth time in as many minutes.

“I’m excited-nervous,” she assured me. “I’m not scared.” Pulling my arm so that I would turn to her, she stretched up and slid her lips across mine, nipping and licking at me. “I’m so excited I almost feel drunk.”

I gave her one last kiss and pulled away before I found myself fucking her in the alley—something Johnny promised would get me blacklisted for the rest of my days—and pushed the key into the lock.

“That’s the other thing I meant to mention. Drinking. There is a two-drink maximum. They want everything safe, consensual, and calm.”

“I’m not sure I can promise the calm part. You have a way of making me a little insane.”

I gave her a grin. “I think he means between patrons. I’m pretty sure there are some things happening tonight between the performers that will not be calm.”

When the door made a soft click, I pulled it open and we stepped inside. Per Johnny’s instructions, we continued through a second door just ten feet beyond that, then down the long flight of stairs leading to a freight elevator. The doors slid open immediately when we hit the down button, and after I entered the code he gave me into a lit keypad, we descended two more floors, deep into the belly of New York.

I tried to explain to Sara what she would see—tables in a semicircle around an open floor, people socializing just as they do in any bar—but I knew that my explanation wouldn’t do it justice. To be honest, I’d been so fascinated with this place when I visited with Johnny that only my ethics as a partner in his other businesses had kept me from exploring it further. As much as I’d wanted to return, I never had.

But with Sara becoming an undeniable part of my life, the possibility of her needing something like this and my new, clawing desire to give her anything she wanted changed my mind about staying away.

The elevator doors parted and we stepped out into a small lobby area. Warm lighting filled the room, and a beautiful redhead sat behind a desk, working on a sleek black computer.

“Mr. Stella,” she said, standing to greet us. “Mr. French told me you would be here tonight. My name is Lisbeth.” I nodded in greeting, and she waved for us to follow. “Please follow me.”

She turned and led us down a short hall, never questioning Sara’s mask or asking for her name. At a heavy steel door, she inserted a long skeleton key, swung the door open, and motioned us through with a sweep of her arm. “Please remember, Mr. Stella, we allow two drinks maximum, do not use names, and have security just outside of the role-play rooms if you need any assistance.” As if to emphasize her point, a very large man stepped up behind her.

Lisbeth turned to Sara and finally addressed her. “Are you here by choice?”

Sara nodded but then said, “Absolutely,” when Lisbeth seemed to want her to respond verbally.

And then Lisbeth winked at us. “Have fun, you two. Johnny said on Wednesday nights Room Six is yours for as long as you want it.”

For as long as we want it?

I turned and led Sara into the club, my mind reeling. I’d only seen a couple of the rooms on my last visit. Most of the night I’d been here had been spent in the main bar, enjoying a whiskey and watching two women make love to music on the table next to me while Johnny walked around and greeted his customers. We had gone down the hall to see a couple of rooms, but I’d felt strange viewing those things with a male business client. I’d claimed to be tired, and later had regretted not seeing what every room had to offer.

“What is Room Six?” Sara asked, wrapping both hands around my upper arm as we walked into the bar.

“No idea,” I admitted. “But if I remember correctly, I’m guessing Johnny gave it to us because it’s at the end of the hall.”

The bar was a large, open room with beautifully simple décor: low, warm light, tables for two, or four, and sofas, ottomans, and chaises tastefully positioned throughout the room. Heavy velvet curtains were draped from the ceiling, and the walls were covered in rich, black wallpaper that exhibited a shimmering, barely perceptible pattern in the winking candlelight.

It was early; a few other patrons sat at tables, speaking in low voices and watching a woman and a man dance in the center of the room. As we walked to the bar, the man pulled her shirt over her head and used it to trap her arm and spin her across the floor. Jewels in her nipple rings glinted in the lights.

Sara watched the pair and then blinked away when I caught her looking. She tucked a lock of dark hair behind her ear in what I’d come to know as a nervous gesture, and I could imagine her blushing behind the mask.

“It’s okay to watch here,” I reminded her, my voice low. “When things get really interesting, you’ll see that no one will be able to look away.”

I ordered her a vodka gimlet and got a scotch for myself before leading her to a small table in the corner. I stared at her as she took it all in. She sipped her drink and took time to study everything around her. I wondered if she realized how much attention she’d attracted from the clientele.

In her neck, I could see her pulse thrum. I stared at the pale skin, wanting to lean over and suck a mark into her. Shifting in my seat to adjust my trousers, I imagined what it would be like to make her come with my hand while the entire room watched.

Fuck, Max. You’re in deep.

“What are you thinking?” I asked her.

She lifted her chin, indicating the dancers who kissed, moved away, and then joined back together again. “Are they going to have sex out here?”

“Most likely, of one form or another.”

“So why do they have the rooms, too?”

“Variety. If I remember correctly, the scenarios in the rooms tend to be wilder. And they’re smaller, more intimate.”

She nodded, lifting her drink and taking a sip, studying me. “No one here knows who I am, but still I’m the one wearing a wig and a mask.”

Smiling, I pointed out, “Historically you have been the one who wants to remain hidden.”

“You would do this for me? Let people watch us together?”

“I suspect I would do almost anything for you,” I admitted. And then, unable to see in the dark corner how my words affected her, I added, “The thought is probably just as much a rush for me as it seems to be for you.”

She slid her hand onto my thigh under the table. “But people here know you. They know your face.”

“There are people all over this room who are far more famous. That man in the corner is an American football player for some team Will is always going on about. And that woman?” I motioned subtly to a table near the bar. “Television.”

Sara’s eyes widened slightly as she recognized the Emmy Award–winning actress. “But they aren’t considering having sex in Room Six,” she noted.

“No, but they’re here watching. No one will judge me for being here with you. And more important, everyone knows you don’t fuck with Johnny French’s confidentiality requirement. He has dirt on everyone here, or can find it.”

“Oh.”

“It stays in this room, S—” I began, but she pressed a finger to my lips.

“No names, stranger,” she reminded me.

I smiled, kissed her fingertip. “Nothing leaves this room, Petal. I promise.”

“The first rule of fight club?” she asked, grinning.

“Exactly.” Lifting my drink to my lips, I took a sip, swallowed. “Tell me what else you’re thinking.”

She leaned in to kiss me but I pulled away.

“Can I touch you out here?”

I shook my head. “Unfortunately, that’s another rule. No sexual contact by anyone but the performers.”

“What about in Room Six?”

“Yes. You can there.”

“Damn.” She shifted in her seat, watching the dancers for a bit. They’d shed their clothes by now, and the man steadied a harness that had been lowered from the ceiling so his partner could step into it. Once inside, her legs were spread wide and an invisible pulley lifted her so her hips were level with her partner’s head. He began to spin her in time with the music, walking in wide circles as she whipped around, head thrown back.

“What time is it?” Sara asked after a few minutes, not looking away from where the man had abruptly stopped the woman from spinning, and pressed his open mouth between her legs.

“Nine forty-five.”

She sighed, and I couldn’t tell if she was as antsy as I was. The torture of the club was knowing that if I wanted to touch her, I could do it only where others could see us. Use us for their need as much as we were using them for ours. I wanted more than anything to do to her what the man on the dance floor had begun doing to his partner: tasting, teasing, fucking her with his fingers.

As the man spun the woman away again, a waiter approached our table.

“Good evening, sir.” He poured water from a crystal pitcher, beginning near the glass then raising it above his head without altering the water’s flow even a little. “The owner has mentioned you’ve been here but your guest is new. Would you like me to tell you a bit about what you can expect?”

“That would be smashing,” I answered.

He turned to Sara. “The club changes the room décor every couple of weeks. Our goal is to keep things fresh for our clientele. You’ll find a variety of scenes going on as you walk down to the rooms.”

I glanced to Sara and wondered how, beneath the mask, the sweet midwestern girl was taking all of this in.

The host continued, “Shows begin at ten, and go until midnight. I’m told your room is Six. Given that this is your first event, you should feel welcome to watch the other exhibits for a bit before deciding whether you would like to participate.” He smiled. “I’m also told the owner would very much like to add something a bit more intimate and sincere to the regular rotation. We’ve never had an exhibiting couple who looks at each other the way you do.”

I felt my eyes go wide, and beside me Sara shifted closer. I could feel the warmth of her thigh against mine. I was truly on the verge of exploding with my need to feel her.

The waiter bowed slightly. “But please do not feel any pressure.”

At ten, the lights in the hallway illuminated a warm gold. Other patrons around the main room shifted, finished their drinks, stood slowly. But Sara grabbed my hand and jerked me out of my chair.

The hall was at least twenty feet wide, with seats and tables near the windows looking in on the rooms. In Room One, the first room on the left, a young, muscular man stood in the corner wearing jeans and no shirt. On the floor, on all fours, was another dark-haired man with a horse tail extending from an anal plug. The man standing in the corner lifted a whip and cracked it loudly in the air.

Sara’s hand flew to her mouth, as I pulled her farther down the hall, murmuring, “Pony play, darling. Not for everyone.”

Room Two had a beautiful woman, alone and naked on the couch, just beginning to masturbate to pornography being projected across the expansive wall opposite her.

Room Three had an enormous, pale man in the tragic Melpomene mask, preparing to take a gagged woman from behind. Beside me, I could sense Sara grow more tense.

“This looks . . .” She gestured vaguely to the strangely fascinating scene.

“Adventurous?” I suggested. “You have to understand that people pay a lot of money to come here. They don’t want to see things they can see on the telly.”

I put my hand to the small of her back and reminded her, “Another thing you can’t see on the telly is real intimacy.”

She looked up at me and then her attention dropped to my mouth. “Do you think we’re really intimate?”

“Do you?”

She nodded. “When did that happen?”

“When has it been anything other than intimate? You just wanted to ignore it.”

She blinked away, but leaned into my side and we started walking again.

Room Four had three women, kissing and laughing as they undressed each other on a gigantic white bed.

Room Five had a man binding a woman up with rope, while a bound and gagged cuckolded man watched from the corner.

“We’re going to be boring,” she whispered, eyes wide.

“You really think so?”

She didn’t answer, because we’d arrived at Room Six, which stood empty. Without even looking to me, she slipped around the end of the hall to where we could enter the rooms from the rear.

The door handle to Six turned easily, and Sara stepped inside.

After a few moments, our eyes adjusted, and I could make out a bar in the corner and a huge leather couch with a low coffee table in front. Even in the darkness, the room felt very much like a corner of my own living room, and I suspected with a jolt that it was a replica of that space.

Without thinking to ask Sara first, I flipped on the light. I was right. Cream walls with deep walnut trim, a wide black couch, and the same plush area rug I had picked up in Dubai. Tiffany lamps decorated the two small end tables. The room was far smaller than my living room, which I used for large events, but the similarity was undeniable. The giant window through which people could observe us was framed by drapes, just like those at my flat, but from where we stood, it just looked like a window looking out upon a blank darkness.

Johnny had been to my house only once, but in a single afternoon he’d transformed a room in his club for me, no doubt assuming it would be familiar to us both, maybe put us at ease. He would have no idea that Sara had never actually been to my flat.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, walking closer and, realizing she could touch me in here, wrapping her arms around my waist.

“He’s made a replica of my living room for us.”

“That’s . . .” She looked around, eyes wide. “That’s crazy.”

“What’s crazy is that this is the first time you’re seeing my house. From inside a sex club.”

The absurdity of it all seemed to hit us both at the same time and Sara dissolved into giggles, pressing her face into my chest. “This is the weirdest thing anyone has ever done. Ever.”

“We can go . . .”

“No. This is the first place we’ll have sex where we’re supposed to,” she said, grinning. “You think I’m going to pass that up?”

Fuck. The woman could ask me to kneel and kiss her toes and I would do it.

I almost said it: I love you. The words got so close to escaping that I literally turned away from her, and walked over to the bar to fix myself a drink.

But she followed me. “And it’s probably late to be asking this, but what are we doing here?”

“I believe we’re trying to find a way to enjoy this aspect of our relationship without jeopardizing our careers or getting our faces plastered all over Perez Hilton.”

I lifted the bottle of scotch, silently offering. She shook her head, eyes wide beneath her mask as she watched me pour myself a drink.

“Three fingers,” she whispered, and I heard her smile in her voice.

“Just one, for now.”

She stepped close after I took a sip and stretched to kiss me, sucking on my tongue.

Fuck she tasted good.

The feathers of her mask brushed against my cheek. “Three,” she insisted.

As she kissed down my neck and spread her hand over the front of my trousers, palming me, I looked over her shoulder at the dark window. Out there, customers might already be sitting and watching, curious about what would happen. Or maybe we were all alone here at the end of the hall. But the idea that we weren’t, the sheer possibility that others could see how she touched me . . . for the first time I understood how being out in plain sight with me had allowed Sara to be whoever she wanted to be. She could play. She could be wild and adventurous and take risks.

And so could I. Here, I could be the man who was desperately in love for the first time in my life.

“Do you really want to fool around here?” I asked, wincing internally at my own bluntness.

But she nodded. “I’m just nervous. Which is slightly insane considering our history.”

She laughed and reached out to lightly scratch my abdomen. Fuck. I’d never felt such a tormenting mix of protectiveness, worship, and a blinding need to completely own someone physically. She was so beautiful, so bloody trusting—all fucking mine.

I bent down, kissed her jaw, and slipped the top few buttons on her shirt free. “What do you imagine when you think we’re being watched?”

She hesitated, toying with the hem of my shirt. “I imagine someone seeing your face and how you look at me.”

“Yeah?” I sucked on her neck. “What else?”

“I imagine a woman who wants to be with you, seeing you with me. Seeing you wanting me.”

I hummed against her skin, pushing her shirt off her shoulders and reaching around to remove her bra. “More.”

When I kissed her neck, I could feel her swallow against my lips. Her voice came out quieter when she admitted, “I imagine some faceless person who saw Andy treat me badly. I imagine the woman he was caught with seeing how you look at me.”

There it is. “And?”

“And him. I imagine him seeing how happy I am now.” She shook her head, digging her fists into my shirt and pulling me close as if I’d pull away. “I don’t think I’ll always hold on to it, but I hate that I still feel so much anger.”

Leaning back, she looked up at me. “But you make me feel amazing, and wanted, and yes, part of me still wishes to rub that in his face.”

I couldn’t hold back my grin. I fucking loved the idea of that bastard seeing me fuck Sara senseless. Because the biggest mistake of his life—his infidelity—had given me the best part of mine.

“Me, too. I’d love him to see how you look when you’re coming. Since I bet he didn’t really manage to see that much.”

She laughed, licking up my throat. “No.”

And fuck, for the first time in my life, I wanted to be someone’s only.

I led her to the couch, then kneeled on the floor between her legs.

Her hands laced into my hair.

“What do you want me to do?” she whispered, looking down at me, always so willing to give me anything.

What do I want? I struggled to find the right answer, suddenly more than a little overwhelmed with the enormity of that question.

You over me.

You under me.

Your laugh in my ears.

Your voice in my chest.

Your wet on my fingers.

Your taste on my tongue.

I think I want to know you feel the way I do.

“I just want you to enjoy this tonight.” I leaned forward, pressing my mouth between her legs. She smelled dizzying, tasted too good, looked too beautiful. Sara’s sounds were quiet and aching and seemed to be tailored entirely for my ear. Her fingers ran over my head, scratching my scalp lightly before she let go and pulled her leg higher, spreading wider, giving me better access. She didn’t move with exaggerated sexuality; she was slow and calm and easily the most accidentally sensual being in history.

And as I focused on making her feel good, I imagined how she looked from outside this room, with my fingers in her and my mouth devouring her and her back arching up from the couch. I was so used to seeing her with the mask now that it wasn’t jarring or distancing; the way she looked at me from behind it made me feel like I’d just been given the entire world. The silky black wig framed her face, made her skin paler, her lips redder. Those same lips parted as she began to beg quietly, instructing me to move faster, to not stop sucking on her, to fuck her harder with my fingers.

As she began to fall, her hand moved up her torso, over her breast and up her neck to her face, where she slipped her mask off, exposing the last bit of her skin that had been covered.

Her huge brown eyes were trained on my face, her lips still parted in a quiet pant.

When she came, she never once looked away, never once even blinked her attention to the windows behind me.

Someone was on the other side of that glass. I could feel it. But I don’t think we could have been any more alone in this room even if we really were at my flat. Nothing in this world existed other than the way she pressed into my mouth, crying out when she came.

Then she sighed, tugged on my hair, and laughed. “Holy shit.”

So maybe if I ever met this Andy twat I wouldn’t actually punch his smug face after all. Maybe I’d shake his hand for messing things up with Sara so epically that she moved to New York and stopped being the woman who did what she was supposed to do, and started to be the woman who did what she bloody well wanted.

I kissed my way up her torso, let her suck her taste from my mouth, my tongue, my jaw. Beneath me she was warm and slow; her arms curled lazily around me, her laugh faded into my neck.

“I think that was the most fun I’ve ever had,” she whispered.

And I suspected I’d do almost anything to spend the rest of my life making this woman happy.