WHAT THE hell am I doing here?

The question beat in my skull over and over again, in time with the thumping pulse of the music. It was some sort of electronic trance, playing so loudly I could feel my back teeth vibrating.

The urge to turn around and just leave was a trembling mass in my gut. I didn’t belong here. I knew it as surely as I knew my own name. I, Todd Hayes, did not belong here in the foremost fetish club in the city, the exclusive and infamous den of iniquity known only as The Lair. It didn’t matter what I thought before I stepped over the threshold, and it didn’t matter what fantasies had lived in my dreams all these years. This place wasn’t for me. The irrefutable proof of this was the fact that after my first wide-eyed perusal of the cavernous space, I could not bring myself to lift my gaze from the floor.

My skin burned with the knowledge of the acts that were being performed all around me. My mouth went dry as my palms dampened. My heart started to flutter, a wild, winged thing. Maybe I should be grateful for the deafening music. At least it covered the noises that I’m sure would have made my face even redder.

Unfortunately for my composure, there was nothing to hide the smell that permeated the place. The humid air was heavy with the smells of leather and latex; the sweet and musky fragrances of dozens of different perfumes and colognes mingled with the sea-saltiness of fresh sweat. Beneath it all was a sharp note of antiseptic, and overlaying the whole was something else, something familiar. I took a deep breath through my nose, felt a pang pierce the left side of my chest. I knew that scent; it was something I had last smelled on Lionel’s body while we’d made love, and on mine.

Lust. The whole place reeked of it, thick and spicy on my tongue. Beneath my tight jeans, my dick twitched and started to harden. The reaction sent a trill of fear down my spine that did nothing to quell my helpless arousal, nor stop the picture the familiar scent brought to mind: that last morning in Lionel’s bed, our limbs tangled together in a lazy knot. Only a little while later, he stormed out of the apartment we had shared for the last six years. He hadn’t come back, not while I was there anyway. That had been nearly eight months ago, and even the painful memory of it didn’t succeed in getting my unruly body back under control.

A drink. One drink and then I would go and not feel like such a coward. Maybe I would have more, and the alcohol would give me the courage to stay.

“You look a bit shell-shocked, mate.”

I jumped at the observation spoken almost directly into my ear. I hadn’t even realized someone had walked up beside me. A blush heated my cheeks as I stopped and turned to the man who had appeared next to me. I would have thought that the music and activity had hidden his approach, but from our previous meeting, I knew he could move quieter than a cat.

“Lucas. I didn’t see you.”

A small smile touched Lucas’s lean face. He was a good-looking man. A little taller than my own six foot one, but more heavily built, each ropey band of muscle perfectly delineated. I knew this because his leather trousers were skin-tight, and were the only thing he was wearing apart from a pair of heavy motorcycle boots. My blush deepened. I had nearly swooned the first time I met him at my introductory interview, almost knocked off my feet by his severe golden beauty and the effortless confidence he radiated. Standing in front of him was like basking too close to a fire, soothing and scorching in turns. His English accent just gilded his lily to dazzling brilliance.

Lucas looked me up and down, his cool gray gaze taking in every detail. I resisted the urge to shift uneasily, to try to hide. I don’t know whether it was because he was the manager of this place or because he was a Dominant, but it felt like he knew everything about me. He looked at me as if my history, my every thought and feeling, was written on my skin, as accessible to him as a reader flicking through the pages of a book.

“You’re nervous.”

My lips quirked at the understatement. “You could put it that way,” I said, pitching my voice to carry over the loud music. “I’m scared out of my mind.” I didn’t even think about lying to him; Lucas wasn’t the type of man you were dishonest with. Besides, from our previous meeting, I trusted him.

Lucas shifted, his gaze moving to take in the various acts taking place in his domain before it came back to rest on me. “I can see why,” he said with the understanding I had come to expect from him. He clapped his hand around the curve of my shoulder, and it didn’t matter that I was older than him by a decade, I felt comforted. “Remember what we talked about before. Nothing can happen here that you don’t want to happen.”

“I know.” It wasn’t that, that I was worried about. What terrified me was how much I wanted this, all of this, and like a starving man faced with a feast, I wanted to gorge myself on it all.

Lucas’s eyes were shrewd. “You’ll be all right, mate,” he said decisively. “I’ll be keeping an eye on you, and so will the rest of my team.”

“Thanks, Lucas—Sir.” I hadn’t called anyone that since college, but for all its unfamiliarity, it came naturally to my tongue. Lucas wasn’t the man for me, but I respected him absolutely.

Lucas grinned. “You’ll do just fine,” he said, and with that emphatic declaration that I dared not disobey, he walked away.

I took a deep breath as I watched Lucas go, prowling through the crowd with predatory grace. I sighed in appreciation. The man’s butt was a work of art.

Okay, then. I could do this. Even if nothing happened tonight, if I did nothing more than stand around and watch as others experienced acts I had only ever dreamed of, then at least it was a step in the right direction.

The bar was situated right at the back of the club, tucked away in one corner. It was tiny compared to the size of the place and the number of people in it, and only had one bartender. At a nightclub a crowd six people deep would surround that bar. Then again, the people here had other things to keep them entertained besides getting drunk.

It wasn’t until I arrived at the polished hardwood expanse of the bar that I remembered there was no alcohol served. I groaned, a noise thankfully swallowed by the music, and ordered a bottle of water from the bartender. When she put it in front of me, I wasted no time in twisting off the cap and taking a much-needed swallow I wished had the burn of whiskey. It must have done me some good, though, because I was able to turn and have a look around.

The bar was the perfect vantage point to survey the club. I could see everything, and it seemed that everyone could see me too. My cheeks heated as I noticed several people scattered throughout The Lair look over at me, their gazes curious and in some cases, frankly assessing. My skin itched with their attention, and I took another sip. I felt like a teenager, awkward and unsure, a wallflower waiting for someone to ask me to dance.

The Lair was divided up into different sections, each centered around a small stage that held different pieces of equipment—St. Andrew’s crosses, hooks and pulleys in the ceiling for suspension bondage, spanking horses, bondage chairs, so many things. Each stage was in use, most of the seats surrounding them taken by people watching as avidly as I was as they waited their turn. My semihard dick swelled to aching fullness as I looked at each of them.