Shameless by Maren Smith

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Shameless by Maren Smith

Blurb:

He called her Piggy-girl, and for six months now Hadlee has struggled to leave that part of her in the past. Then Black Light sends out its second annual invite: three hours of play, partnered with a dom chosen by chance, doing whatever the roulette wheel decides. For Hadlee, making it through the night means more than a month’s free membership in D.C.’s most infamous BDSM club. It means a return of her dignity, courage—her Self—and just maybe, the one thing Hadlee isn’t looking for… the love of a man who has wanted her for almost a year.

Chapter One:

“He’s here,” Garreth said through the cracked doorway, and for a moment, Hadlee melted. She always did when she heard the deep, rich timbre of his voice, but then what he’d said registered and that yummy, melty sensation shimmering in the pit of her stomach vanished.

He’s here.

Her heavy winter coat half on and half off her shoulders, Hadlee went cold. She stared into the open locker that she’d chosen for the night, surrounded by an over-abundance of stark white tile, the brightness of which was amplified by the florescent recessed lighting above. The ladies’ locker room was always so jarringly bright, especially compared to the atmospheric gloom of Black Light’s interior dungeon. Only Hadlee hadn’t spent a long night here, not yet. She’d only just arrived, and if ever she wanted to resew the tattered shreds of her life back into the whole cloth he’d destroyed, she couldn’t—wouldn’t—let him be the reason she continued to stay away. Not anymore. Not tonight.

Nice thought. The sentiment sounded good in her head. If only her hands weren’t already shaking and her gut twisting in painful knots.

“Hadlee?” Garreth tried again, cracking the door a little wider. This was the ladies’ locker room though, and he worked security here. Well versed in the importance of safe rooms, he did not stick his head inside. “Are you in there?”

“I’m here,” Hadlee said, not raising her voice. She didn’t need to. Currently the only woman in here, the room was not so huge that either of their voices got lost or disjointed in the minor echo. “I heard you.”

“He’s here,” Garreth repeated anyway.

Squeezing her hands together to stop the trembling, Hadlee made herself take off her coat. “That’s fine,” she said, not because it was, but because it had to be. “I don’t own the place.”

No, but Chase was the man running the show tonight, and he was also the right-hand of Jaxson and they did, in fact, own Black Light. Neither owner liked Ethen any more than Garreth did. But the sad fact about public dungeons would always be this: they couldn’t make operating costs if they only allowed in people that everybody liked. She knew that.

So did Garreth.

So did Ethen.

“I could say something,” Garreth offered anyway.

“To Chase and Jaxson?” She looked back over her shoulder, barely tall enough to see over the tile partition that blocked the cracked door and most of him from her sight. He still wasn’t looking in. “Don’t you dare. I’m not going to be one of those people.”

“I meant to Ethen.” For the first time since opening the door, the taint of weighted disapproval changed his tone. It grew deeper. “What do you mean, ‘those people’?”

Garreth was the only person from Black Light that she had any kind of relationship with outside the club and even that was purely accidental. They’d met for the first time more than a year ago, when she’d first gained her membership. Since then, they’d become… friends, of sorts. Sometimes it felt more like co-workers, meaning they smiled at one another and often talked. He had her cellphone number; she had his, too. And once, that one time six months back, he’d been to her apartment. She’d never been to his, but sometimes she wondered if—stripped of his dark dungeon monitor’s uniform and in the privacy of his home—Garreth might not be an actual dom. Not everyone who worked here lived the lifestyle, but if Garreth didn’t, he had all the right mannerisms. Like when he talked to her in that tone and dancing chills tickled like scratchy fingertips down the ladder of her spine.

“I didn’t mean it like that,” she hedged, trying to dispel the feeling.

“Uh huh,” he said, disapproval deepening.

“I don’t…” Her fingers shook a little as she folded her coat and placed it neatly in the locker. She hesitated before trying again. “I only meant, I don’t run and tell ‘daddy’ just because things don’t go my way. I’m not a whiner.”

“Not a whiner,” Garreth echoed, the weight of his tone growing heavier. “Just because? That son of a bitch put you in a hog wallow, full of mud, animal shit, and rotting food. He made you kneel there in the cold, and the wet, and the filth for an entire night. I don’t care what you did. He can’t justify that because that wasn’t a punishment, Hadlee. That was torture, and it endangered your health.” He must have been leaning against the threshold because Hadlee heard it when Garreth shoved back off the frame and grabbed the door. “I’m not a boxer any more than you’re a whiner, but if he says one word to me, I’m still going to break his nose.”

Hadlee smiled, but it was a flash-pan smile at best—gone as fast as it crossed her lips. The soft bump of the locker room door closing told her Garreth was gone, too, leaving her alone in the too-brightness and empty echoes that tattled on her every move as she collapsed on the nearest bench. Her legs were shaking as bad as her hands. She gripped them tight into fists, hoping to find some inner strength and still the traitorous trembling. She wasn’t weak; she was strong. She hadn’t done anything wrong, she told herself, the same familiar mantra she always told herself whenever she got scared. She had nothing to be ashamed of.

Were they going to be with him? The errant thought popped into her head, bringing with it a fresh wave of fears. Would they be playing tonight, too? If so, they might come in here next.

Her fists trembled all over again. Swallowing back queasiness, she changed her clothes quickly, shedding out of the sparkling pink club dress she had only ever worn the one time before—to this very club, in fact, back before she’d met Ethen or his girls. His menagerie, he called them. All of them so tall, so beautiful, so perfect in the black leather harness-type dresses he liked for them to wear. The ones that did not hide their nakedness, but enhanced it, gifting each of them with animal masks that amplified the exotic, mysterious qualities of the animals each represented. There was Puppy-girl, with padded gloves that turned her hands into paws and the puppy mask that covered her entire head, letting none of her features be seen, not even her hair. His favorite was Kitty-girl, with her pointed black ears and her black half-mask dotted with whiskers; he doted on her. And, of course, Pony-girl, who he’d had the longest. With her long white-blonde hair done up in a high mane-like ponytail, and shiny black knee-high boots with three-inch spiked heels and hooves under her toes. The only one missing was her: Piggy-girl, with that ugly half-mask crowned with its a black-leather snout and those floppy pig ears and, God, she shuddered, that cork-screw butt-plug tail. They all had to wear one, each tail specific to the degrading animal they represented.

Except no one seemed to feel degraded when they dressed up as Ethen’s menagerie. Only her. Her stomach still churned because of it. It had been six months since she’d escaped and still she could barely stand to look at herself in the mirror without seeing the way the curves of her body had bulged around the too-tight harness straps, with all of its buckles pulled to the very last notch. She wasn’t fat, and never had been. She wasn’t model-thin, either. Not by any means, but she wasn’t overweight. But that harness… all she could see now when she looked at herself in the mirror was the Piggy. The one he liked to make kneel down on all fours and eat off the floor. Off a plate, if she was a good girl. And when she was bad…

She shuddered. She could still smell the shit and rot and the earthiness of the mud-wallow where she’d had to kneel, for hours, in the hopes he might forgive her. Shame swept her, hot and familiar, because she’d told him she wanted to take the outfit off. That she couldn’t wear it anymore. That she hated how it made her feel. That she wasn’t a pig. She wasn’t Piggy-girl.

The mud had been deep and cold. Kneeling, she’d sunk into it halfway up her thighs. Her ass had been in it, with that awful pig-tail butt-plug inside her. The only reason she hadn’t been eaten alive by mosquitos and horse-flies was because it was too cold. She’d wanted to get up so bad, to get off her knees, but Ethen had ordered her to kneel there and she couldn’t make herself not obey him. They’d only been together six months, though at times it had felt like years. He’d been her Dom, her life—her god, as he sometimes liked to whisper when it was Piggy’s turn to spend the night in his bed. He was the one who could make her submissive’s soul whole. The one who brought her pleasure, and the one who dished out punishment and pain, and who made her kneel all night long, crying those ugly tears, with nothing to wipe her face or blow her nose because whenever he came outside, making sure she was doing as she’d been told, he’d never brought a tissue.

“Use your hand,” he’d coldly said, but she couldn’t because she’d fallen just trying to kneel down without twisting her ankles in those incredible high heels that were part of Piggy’s uniform. There’d been muck all the way to her elbows, and she couldn’t bear to wipe that stuff on her face.

“Bend over,” he’d said then. “You’re not coming out of there until you press your face into the wallow. I want it all the way back in your hair and your ears.”

Hadlee refused, so he’d gone back into the house and there she’d sat, crying. Past the rise and fall of the moon, past the time when he put his menagerie to bed—Pony in her stall, Puppy in her crate and Kitty on a pillow by the living room fireplace. Past the point that she’d run out of tears. From that point on, she could only kneel, shaking in the cold and wondering why she didn’t leave.

Get up, Hadlee. You’re worth better than this. Get up!

“Get up.” The echo of her own warbling voice in the locker room jolted Hadlee. Her hands fisted in the sequined skirt of her dress. Dozens of hard sparkling disks cut into the soft flesh of her fingers and palms. She wasn’t alone anymore, either. While she’d been lost in bad memories, two other women had come into the locker room. Regulars at Black Light, she knew their faces but not their names. Both had paused in the middle of changing to look at her.

“Are you okay?” one asked.

Hadlee got up off the bench. “Fine,” she whispered, and faced her open locker. She forced herself to finish undressing. She hated taking her clothes off in front of people. That was one of the reasons why she had decided to join Black Light’s first anniversary of last year’s infamous Valentine’s Day Roulette. Although she had been a member, she hadn’t attended the event last year. She hadn’t seen the things that had happened here and because of the standard dungeon rule ‘What happens at Black Light, stays at Black Light’, she knew she’d never know exactly what had occurred. But she’d heard whispers that it had been beyond amazing. That only hardcore submissives could get through such trials and ordeals, not even for the kind of prize Black Light was offering—an entire month’s membership, free. Most people couldn’t afford to come to a place this high-class, but Hadlee could. A shrewd investor, she’d taken her father’s half-million-dollar estate as soon as it became hers and within eight years, turned it into a half billion. She didn’t need a free membership, not to Black Light or any other dungeon. She was here for a much more valuable prize: the ability to once more look at herself in the mirror without hating what she saw. She wanted to see her own reflection without Piggy-girl staring back at her. She wanted her dignity back. She wanted her pride, her confidence, and her self-respect. She wanted her Self back.

And she was willing to do anything it took to regain that prize. Even if it meant putting herself up on a blind playdate with whatever dom happened to spin her name on Black Light’s infamous roulette wheel. Even if it meant doing whatever she, in turn, might spin when it came her turn to take a chance.

Even if it meant dressing up as Piggy again?

Her chest constricted, squeezing in on her heart so hard she felt herself go faint. Please, she prayed, let the man who spun her name be anyone but Ethen.

* * * * *

Stationed at the top of the stage steps, feet braced apart and arms folded, Garreth looked out over a minor ocean of people milling around the tables on the play-floor and in particular at the one man that Garreth honestly believed the world would be better off without. Ethen O’Dowell, in the flesh and sitting like fucking royalty among his harem of masked ‘animals’. He’d chosen a table one row in front of the dungeon entrance where everyone coming or going had no choice but to walk right past him. From that spot, he couldn’t help but see everything bound to take place here tonight. It was also where he couldn’t help but be seen as well.

It was psychological warfare, the first battle-shot of which was intended for Hadlee. To shatter what little peace of mind she’d gathered in the months since she’d left him. That son of a bitch.

Garreth tightened his grip on his own arms. He locked his legs, anything to keep from stalking back down those steps and walking right up to the man. He’d been serious when he told Hadlee he’d punch the man out. He’d never been so serious, and that wasn’t at all like him. He wasn’t a violent man. And yet, it was all he could do to keep his breathing slow and steady, especially when Ethen looked right at him. Even in Black Light’s atmospheric low lighting, he recognized Garreth.

I see you, Garreth let his frown say.

Ethen had the nerve to smile. Drink it all in.

“Please tell me we’re not going to have a problem tonight.”

Caught. Damn it. Garreth turned, pasting on a smile for his boss’s benefit. “Hey,” he greeted Spencer. “I would have thought you’d be over by the bar, getting ready for this all to start.”

Spencer was not fooled. Climbing the stage steps, he knew without needing to be told exactly who Garreth was staring at. His frown deepened the moment he spotted Ethen. “That doesn’t answer my question. So there will be no misunderstandings later on, are we going to have a problem tonight?”

“Not on my end,” Garreth vowed. “Will you be giving the Zoo-Keeper the same warning?”

“Ethen doesn’t work here. You do. That means I expect you to keep things professional, no matter what. Now, I don’t know what happened to make things go so sour between the two of you—”

Garreth wasn’t quick enough to bite back the bitter laugh that rolled up and out of him. “No, you sure don’t.” And Spencer would never know, because Garreth had promised Hadlee he wouldn’t tell anyone. It was the worst promise he’d ever made, but one he would keep until the day he died. For her sake, if no one else’s.

“Don’t push me,” Spencer said, softening his voice if not his tone. “I like you, man. I’ve always liked you, and I’m not an idiot. I know something’s going on. You won’t say what, so that’s on you. But the minute you let whatever it is bubble over to taint the integrity of Black Light, then it becomes my problem. Ethen is a jackass, fine. I get it. But he’s also one of the best civil law lawyers in the country and he’s quick to sue. Do not give him a reason to shut us down.”

As if he could hear the conversation, Ethen’s smile broadened. He dropped a hand to pet his Kitty, sitting on the floor at his feet. Puppy was lying down under the table. Pony was sitting in a chair beside him, her hands on her knees. All of them were naked in their harnesses. All of them had pierced breasts hanging out and legs splayed, their shaved pussies turned so he could see them if he so desired. One of Black Light’s few High Protocol masters, his rules were his own and damn near indecipherable to everyone else, and Garreth hated him. He’d never hated anyone in his life. He was an EMT by profession, a volunteer firefighter who had worked first response for years. His job these days revolved around keeping even the riskiest play at Black Light as safe as possible, but he’d always been geared more toward helping people rather than beating men to death. Which was exactly what he wanted to do every time he looked at Ethen.

“Don’t do it,” Spencer said one last time.

It took real effort, but Garreth pasted that smile back on his face. He even tried to make himself believe it was genuine. “Everything’s golden tonight. There’s not going to be any problems. None whatsoever.”

Spencer grunted, then he looked up and his gaze locked on someone else. Across the room, Hadlee had just left the locker area. She was winding her way through the crowd both standing and sitting around the tables and, God, how his heart stumbled when Garreth saw her. She looked beautiful. But then, she always did. In preparation for tonight, her long, curling, chestnut-brown hair was pulled back in a functional ponytail and her little black negligee sparkled, catching the light as she moved closer to the stage. He wanted her so badly it hurt, but she never looked at him. She never looked at anyone these days, and all because of Ethen.

Had she seen him yet? If she had, she was trying not to let it bother her. Her head was high, her back stiff, her poise calm and controlled, but she was going to have to walk right past Ethen’s chair in order to reach the other party participants already gathered below Garreth at the bottom of the stairs to the stage. She was going to pass right within his easy reach.

Shit. Ethen must have seen him staring. Swiveling around, he followed Garreth’s gaze and now he was watching Hadlee too. She did her best to put as many people between them as possible when she passed his table, but already Ethen was on his feet and moving to block her path.

That mother fucker.

Garreth was moving before he could stop himself, side-stepping Spencer and jogging down the stage steps.

“Garreth,” Spencer called after him, but Garreth didn’t stop. He charged into the crowd, but already Ethen had Hadlee by the arm. Garreth quickened his step, but still Ethen had her shoved up against the outside wall of the medical area. Hadlee grabbed Ethen’s arm, but it wasn’t until Garreth saw her wince—either at her impact with the wall or the pinch of the other man’s grip—that he suddenly knew, while he might be geared more toward helping people, tonight, in about two seconds flat, he was going to break Ethen O’Dowell’s arm.

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