Really, I should give him a ton of shit for summoning me here before I went along with anything he wanted, but this really wasn’t the place to talk. Plus, that scene with his stepmother had somewhat disturbed me, and that distracted me from just how angry I was with him.
Sarah stayed at my side as he guided us past the seating area and over to a door marked ‘Private.’ A swipe of his card unlocked the door. A small passage led to an elevator, and Sarah seemed to be fighting the urge to excitedly clap her hands when Blake pressed the ‘down’ button. I rolled my eyes.
“Don’t rain on my fun, Lyons,” she playfully scolded as we stepped into the elevator. As Blake pressed ‘B1,’ she asked, “What’s on ‘B2?’”
“Function rooms,” he replied.
I glanced at the ‘B3’ button, which had a keylock. “And B3?”
“Stock.” There was something about the way he said the word—or maybe it was his hesitation to answer—that made my brow furrow.
With a soft chime, the shiny doors slid open. Blake splayed his hand on my back and steered me forward.
Casual as you please, Sarah walked right in like she’d been there dozens of times before. “Love the décor.” She gave us a little wave. “Have fun.”
I frowned. “Wait—”
“I won’t leave without you, I promise.” She pranced away, gazing at everything with over-bright eyes like a kid in Disney world.
“She’s into BDSM?” Blake asked me.
“She’s not entirely sure yet,” I said. “I guess you could say she’s here to do some research. Possibly experiment.” I turned to fully face him. “I’m surprised you agreed to let her come.”
“I wanted you with me. I did what I had to do to get you here.” His head tilted as he brushed my hair away from my face. “Still pissed at me?”
“Yes. Can you blame me? You said you’d call. You didn’t. You also ignored my text. Then, when you did finally get in touch, it was to order me here by text. A very formal, curt text. And then you had the nerve to be angry with me for making plans instead of waiting at home just in case you deigned to contact me.”
I waited as he absorbed my words, seeming … uncomfortable and out of his element. It struck me that he’d probably never been in this situation with a woman before.
“It was unfair of me not to call when I said I would,” he said. “I left for Chicago on the Friday—it was a last-minute and long-ass business trip. Things were hectic, and there were a lot of fuck-ups I had to fix. That meant there were a lot of texts and calls I didn’t get a chance to respond to during that time, not just yours. My focus had to be on getting things back on track.”
And since I liked that he gave things his full attention that way, I couldn’t even be mad about it.
“If it seemed like I was coldly ordering you to come to me tonight, I apologize. I don’t expect you to not make plans. I just want to be part of them.”
“Whenever you give me advanced notice about meeting up, I do make you part of my plans. But this time, you didn’t. And it pissed me off. I might not have a life as busy as yours, Blake, but that doesn’t mean I sit around doing nothing.”
“Noted,” he assured me, laying a kiss on my mouth that was light and soothing. “I’ve missed this mouth.” His fingers skimmed over the cuff on my upper arm. “I like this. I like this a lot.”
The cuff was much like an Egyptian gold band, though it didn’t have the head of a snake. It looped around my upper arm and was dotted with lots of red stones. I traced one of the red stripes on his black tie. “And I like this.”
“Good.” He gave me another soft kiss. “Hungry?”
“Not for food.” I was still bloated from my box of beef noodles.
His lips curved. “Just a drink, then.”
Once we were seated on what had become our usual sofa, I glanced around, looking for Sarah. She was sitting at the bar, looking in her element, flirting with a broad-shouldered guy with Mediterranean olive skin and short, tight dark curls. “Who’s that guy Sarah’s talking to?”
Ah, the friend who’d called him a few weeks ago and sent his mood plummeting.
Blake drew his fingers along my arm, making me shiver. “He’s been trying to buy this place from me for years.”
Surprised he’d tell me anything about the guy, considering I’d gotten the impression that Bastien was a topic that was totally off-limits, I blinked. “But you won’t sell?”
“No.” He paused as a waiter appeared, took our orders, and then just as quickly disappeared. Blake draped an arm over the back of the sofa and doodled on my shoulder with his finger. He put his mouth to my ear. “I like the little sprinkle of freckles on your shoulders. It’s like someone’s dusted them with cinnamon. Makes me want to lean in and take a lick.”
I raised a daring brow. “Then why don’t you?”
“I think I will.” He licked a line from my shoulder all the way to my earlobe. “Don’t know what lotion you use, but your skin smells amazing.”
I flinched at the hard dig of his teeth. “Ow.”
“Just marking my property again.”
I snorted at the audacious fucker. “What made you decide to make this floor cater to people who are interested in BDSM? I mean, you’re not into it, so why bother to do this?”
He shrugged. “I saw a niche.”
“Since erotic novels and movies have become so much more popular, it’s made a lot of people aware of and curious about BDSM. But, like your friend, they’re not so sure it’s really for them. They’re nervous about walking right into a BDSM club because they’re not entirely sure what goes on there and they don’t know how they’re supposed to act.”
I nodded, since it echoed what Sarah had said to me.
“The Vault isn’t a BDSM club. It’s a normal club, and that makes members feel safer. When they step off the elevator, they don’t walk right into the thick of things. They walk into a lounge where they can simply have a drink and a meal, talk with their friends or like-minded people, and not have to take it any further. If they do want to walk further down this path, they can do so.”
“But how did you see the niche?”
“It was actually through Bastien. He used to go to a BDSM club. I don’t know if the owner keeps it dark and dingy on purpose to create a certain atmosphere, but Bastien complained about it; said he thought it gave newcomers the wrong idea and made BDSM seem dirty or forbidden. He also said that many women who walked in there were only curious because of the Fifty Shades trilogy and that not many of them stayed long, because the books only begin to touch on just how many kinks are out there. Some were freaked out and intimidated by the things they saw.”
I twisted my mouth, and his eyes dropped to it. “I suppose it’s hard to ease someone into something when they’ve been exposed to so much all at once and feel completely out of their element,” I mused.
“Exactly.” He paused when the waiter reappeared and set down our drinks. “That’s why I have the lounge separate from the dome,” Blake continued before taking a swig from his glass. “It’s just like being in any bar, except the patrons might not act quite so normally. It gives people an idea of what they can expect, and allows them to sit back and observe. They can then ease themselves into this by walking through that door over there and head to the dome. Or they can take the elevator to one of the other floors, satisfied that they’ve addressed their curiosity.”