At the top, the familiar, aging doorman is dressed in his finely tailored black suit, guarding the double castle-like wooden doors to ensure that only those Isabel approves enter.

“Monsieur Merit,” he says, inclining his head.

“Monsieur Augustin,” I acknowledge. The flex of Sara’s hand in mine tells me she doesn’t miss our familiar greeting.

“Will you and your companion be visiting Madame Isabel?” Monsieur Augustin queries, and I don’t miss the way his gaze flickers briefly over Sara, nor the interest she stirs in him. And I know why.

I manage, “Yes. We will.”

“I’ll let her know you’ve arrived, then.” He punches a button on the wall and the doors open.

Together, Sara and I enter the elegantly decorated foyer, a gray-and-white marble floor beneath our feet. The ceiling is low, glittering with some sort of jeweled lights, and several tall wingback chairs are to our left and right. This room, as in all the high-end clubs, shouts of a spa getaway, a luxurious escape. For some who take it all in its proper dose, it is. For others, like me, it’s the facade that hides a drug we take too far.

Sara turns to me. “This is where—”

“Yes,” I say tightly, my eyes meeting hers, holding nothing back. We’re here now. We’re seeing this through to the other side of hell and back. “This is where Isabel beat me.”

“Monsieur Merit.”

I glance up at the sound of my name to a boy who’s no more than eighteen, wearing a fitted, expensive suit, his dark hair sleek and combed back from his baby face. The me of yesterday. No doubt he’s searching for solace from who knows what, and Lord help him for finding Isabel.

The kid motions to the elevator, sounding formal, looking out of place. “This way to Madame Isabel.”

We follow him down the typical Parisian narrow hallway to an elevator that he uses a code to open. Inside, he punches a floor number that punches me in the gut, for it leads to a room Isabel knows I never enter.

The doors close and Sara turns to me, worry for the boy etched in her lovely brown eyes. I quickly pull her against me, pressing my finger to her lips. “Shhh,” I warn softly. “You can’t help him, and if anyone thinks you’ll try, they’ll expel you from the club.”

She inhales and then lets it out, saying, “I already hate this place,” before turning to face the doors again, stepping close to me.

“That makes two of us,” I reply, sliding my hand to her waist in silent reassurance, fighting the urge to drag her out of here and protect her. Eyes wide open, I remind myself. I am protecting her.

Silent seconds tick by, and too soon, the elevator doors open. A scowling Tristan is leaning against the wall directly in front of us, his tattooed arms crossed in front of his T-shirt-clad chest, his long, light brown hair a wild mess barely contained by a tie at his nape. He cuts a look at Sara before fixing me in a contemptuous stare and saying in French, “One woman destroyed isn’t enough for you? Is she Isabel’s consolation prize?”

Lacing my fingers with Sara’s, I speak in clear, hard English. “Don’t push me, Tristan. You won’t like where it takes you.”

I cut to my right down another long narrow hallway to the doorway at the end, and enter what Isabel likes to call the “Hive”—a name meant to signify Isabel as the queen bee who knows just how to sting her followers. It also allows spectators, if the price is right. I was never her damn follower, and I damn sure don’t like being watched.

I hit the buzzer. “Open up, Isabel.”

“You may enter. Not them.”

“Open the damn door,” I growl.

A pause, then she says, “Very well. You will all remain confined to the observation booth.” The door buzzes open and I glance over my shoulder at Tristan, motioning to him with my head. I don’t look at Sara, or I’ll talk myself out of letting her witness the shit that awaits us inside.

Shoving open the door, I lead her inside the tacky room of white tile and white-velvet-covered walls, which Isabel once explained was meant to be some sick virginal reference. There’s a door to our left that I know is locked, and directly in front of us is a floor-to-ceiling one-way mirror, allowing us to view the “play” room, which is more white-on-white.

The door slams shut behind me and Tristan steps to my right, with Sara on my left. We all gaze forward and I swear to God, I feel physically sick. If I’d thought leading Amber into a world of painful beatings as an escape was bad, where she’s gone since then without me is a whole new level of nightmare. Tension slides down my spine at the sight of a completely naked Amber, her arms tied over her head and connected to a ceiling hook with tight red ropes. The same ropes bind her thighs and ankles. Huge welts mark her brightly tattooed arms, br**sts, and belly, while heavy weights dangle from the clamps tightened around her ni**les. Directly in front of her is the dungeon stock, meant for her head and arms. I know just how badly Isabel will beat her once she’s in that thing. I’ve welcomed it. I’ve begged for it, and I hate myself for letting that be me, and for turning Amber into this.

My gaze lifts to the bitch I had let stay in my life far too long. Befitting her virginal theme, she’s dressed in a white leather outfit that barely covers her hips and br**sts, her long blond hair touching her shoulders. The sight of her sickens me. Her chin lifts rebelliously as if she senses me looking at her, and before I can react, her wrist flicks wickedly, bringing the whip down hard against Amber’s back. Amber buckles with the pain and I hear Tristan curse as Sara gasps.

Tags: Lisa Renee Jones Inside Out Romance