“Ava is,” I say. “She’s crazy, but she’s smart.” I scrub at the tension at the back of my neck. “I’ll have the records here in the morning.”
“Don’t keep them with you,” Dean warns. “I need to stay away from the club right now, too, but call me when you have them in hand and I’ll pick them up.”
I give him a nod and shake Tiger’s hand. Ready to get this trip to the club over with, I exit the conference room and, needing to burn off the emotion clawing at me, I take the stairs. I’ve just reached the garage and settled into my Jag when my cell phone rings.
Noting Crystal’s name on the ID, I answer. “Ms. Smith,” I say, punching the ignition button and hoping for at least one piece of good news. “How’s my mother doing?”
“I talked to your father and he said she’s still not feeling well. They’re running tests with no results back yet. Mark, I’m not in New York. I’m here in San Francisco. I need to see you.”
I brake at the exit to the garage. “What? Why? You’re supposed to be looking after Riptide.”
“I have my father’s private jet. I can go back tonight if you want me to.”
“If I want you to? What the hell does that mean, Crystal?”
“I’d rather explain in person. I’m at the gallery. Are you here? Can you let me in?”
A sense of foreboding fills me. “Is everyone safe?”
“Are you okay?”
“Is under control.”
“What are you doing here, Ms. Smith?”
“In person,” she repeats. “I need to see you.”
I hear the stubbornness in her voice, and say, “I’m not at the gallery. Do you have a hotel?”
“Meet me at my house in an hour. I’ll text you the address.”
“Wait, Mark. The plane—”
I hit the End button, and it’s all I can do not to go to her now and find out what bombshell she has waiting for me.
And it will be a bombshell. I’m sure of it.
Twenty minutes later, I’ve ignored three calls from Crystal, tried to reach my father to no avail, and I’m finally at the gates of the club. It is only a few blocks from my home in Cow Hollow. I punch in a code on a panel. The steel entry starts to open and I hit the intercom, announcing myself, and instruct the attendant, “Make sure Kurt knows I’m here.”
Shifting the car into gear, I travel the long driveway draped in heavy foliage for privacy, and around the curved drive to park in front of the sprawling mansion that’s only one of many buildings on the several miles wide property. Opening my door, I hand off my keys to one of the longtime attendants. Without a word to anyone else, I head up the long stairway to the double red doors meant to signify money and power.
After another long-term employee, a security guard wearing the standard black suit I require, greets me at the top level, I enter the house. As Dean had pointed out, members pay a hefty price to join the club, and the foyer, like the rest of the property, is decorated with fine art and expensive furnishings to create the luxury they expect. Those fees also encourage confidentiality, both that of the members and the staff, and my role as Master is to the protection of everyone here—a role I take deadly serious. The idea of failing in my duties is unthinkable, and Ava’s betraying the secrets of the membership is a failure.
Kurt, an ex–Navy SEAL and head of security, joins me in the foyer, his long blond hair tied at his nape, showing a four-inch scar he wears proudly down his cheek.
“My office,” I order. We head down a separate set of stairs, not as ornate as the stairs up, which are lined with mahogany rails, and into the finished basement that includes a dungeon area and my office.
As I reach the foot of the steps a memory stirs in my mind, of bringing Sara down here to the dungeon. It had been the night that Chris had lost it, mourning a little boy dying of cancer. I’d known Chris had tumbled into darkness that evening, pushing too hard for escape, beyond safety and reason. Chris had once been a friend, one I still didn’t want to see crash and burn, perhaps because his strength felt like my own. It was my job as Master to make the decision to break code and stop the beating he was demanding. And as much as I’d tried to prevent Sara from ending up with Chris, I’d known she was the only way I’d get him out of that dungeon in my club.
Up to that point, knowing how damaged Chris truly was, and is, I’d feared the power he was giving Sara over himself, and the power he was gaining over her. I hadn’t realized it was my fear that she was his Rebecca, a woman he’d destroy. That night I’d just been damn thankful she was his salvation, but I’d also sworn I’d never be in that place he was myself. Now, just a month later, I’m teetering on the edge of that place, trying my damnedest to pull myself back.
Reaching the double dungeon-style wooden doors at the end of the walkway, I key in another code on a panel, hold my thumb on a scanner, and then watch the tiny red light change to green. Entering the room lined with bookshelves, my path is a straight to the centerpiece of the space, an oversized antique desk that I restored years before. Kurt follows me inside, locking the doors behind us. I step behind the desk, opening a drawer and pressing my thumb to yet another panel there. One of the bookshelves slides to the side, exposing a secret room.