Firmly shut behind the safety of her front door, PJ slid the deadbolt home. Her workday hadn’t been quite the nightmare she’d anticipated as Derrick’s attention had been elsewhere. With her desk situated right outside his office, she’d been privy to the heated conversations that had kept him busy while he tried to sort out some major crisis, and PJ supposed to him, it probably was. One of her co-workers who was meant to be leaving for China the following week had been hospitalized with pneumonia, leaving Derrick very much in the lurch. Normally seeing him so stressed would have amused her, a sort of poetic justice, but not today. PJ was just too overwhelmed by her own problems to care.
Picking up the grocery bags, she wandered down the hall, ignoring the flashing light by the phone as she headed straight for the kitchen and the nearest bottle of wine. Pouring a glass, she sat at the bench. The first mouthful thankfully went straight to her head, the second also.
Two glasses later, she’d unpacked the groceries, consumed some truly uninspiring food and managed to completely ignore the answer machine every time she’d walked past it, but she couldn’t anymore. Hitting the small red button, she waited the three agonising seconds it took for the message to play. The conceited male voice that filled the hallway wasn’t the one she was expecting; it was so much worse.
‘… the China deal, Lester. I’m sending you.’
Derrick couldn’t be serious. PJ was a garment technologist for fucks sake, she dealt with fabric and designs, not sales and contracts. Yes, she was more than capable of doing it, but not at this level, and not in China. Josh, the sales rep in question had been in contact with the clients for months in preparation for this trip. If Derrick were honest to God serious, this would give her four days to prepare.
That wasn’t what worried her though, it was the thought of traveling alone, to a place where she didn’t speak the language or understand the culture. The whole scenario was so far out of her comfort zone; she could already feel the tight, constricted grasp of a panic attack.
Hitting the button with far more force than was needed, PJ deleted his message then emptied her glass, the alcohol burning all the way down. She was tempted to grab the bottle; instead she climbed to her feet and headed to the bathroom. Getting drunk wasn’t going to solve anything.
While she slowly fumbled through her nightly routine, PJ tried not to look in the mirror, but it was impossible. Everything about her looked dull and lifeless, from her light brown eyes to her messy blond hair. Even her cheekbones seemed far more pronounced than they had yesterday and her usually plump lips were drawn, rough from where she’d bitten them to stop herself crying. Quite simply, she looked like a wreck and three weeks in China feeling stressed and anxious wasn’t going to help, or maybe it would?
Stepping away from everything she knew might be exactly what she needed; the chance to reassess what was important to her, because there was no going back. Her relationship with Sam was over, her friendship with Becky too. Her career was at a crossroad, not going anywhere yet demanding so much for the privilege, and something had to give. She’d be damned if it was her.
Several times during the night PJ woke up, reaching for Sam, just wanting to—and then she’d remembered, the full color, surround sound flashbacks appearing right behind her eyes, of Becky’s naked ass grinding above him, her high-pitched moans, his low grunts.
She’d contemplated getting up and emailing him, while her anger was still raw, scathingly so, but she’d decided against it, opting to take a sleeping pill instead.
Eight hours later on the flip-side of that decision, PJ felt great. Well, not great but better.
After a shower and breakfast, she headed out the door with a list of things she was going to need for her impending trip.
The evidence of yesterday’s meltdown lay scattered over the passenger seat of her car, not that she could remember upturning her handbag, but she must have. Grabbing her lipstick, chewing gum, and a beaded bracelet that always pulled the hairs on her arm; PJ shoved them back in her bag, about to zip it up when she spotted one last item. Prying the crumpled Lotto ticket out from between the seats, she stuffed it back in as well.
Traffic was quiet, which was rare for Auckland, so PJ took her time, avoiding not only Sam’s suburb, but Becky’s also. After finding a park, she grabbed a coffee then spent the next hour aimlessly wandering the streets until eventually she ended up outside a shop she’d always been too self-conscious to enter. Not today though. Two steps, a deep breath and she was in. With a quick glance around to make sure she didn’t recognize anyone, PJ made her way to the top of the first aisle.
Overhead lights bounced off PVC, lots and lots of PVC and mannequins, wearing figure-hugging outfits with explicit cut-outs. One of them had her fingers curling, wanting to explore so she did. The black latex cat suit had a full-face mask with tiny slits at the nostrils and a slash across the mouth, but it was the cut-out holes at the nipples that PJ touched. Sliding lower, she ran her fingertips along the zip that ran from the belly button to the crotch.
Her own fantasies had taken her to many places, but tight constricting outfits had never been one of them, so she headed further down the aisle until she found a small notice board covered with posters. As PJ scanned them, one grabbed her attention. With its immaculately formed black handwriting, it was a work of art, exquisite in its simplicity, erotic in its content.She read it line by line, twice, her thighs clenching, her knickers getting damp.
‘Master Lucas’ was looking for a new girl. No previous experience in the lifestyle was required because he preferred to mold his slave to his own needs. The list of abbreviations that followed made no sense at all. The next item was a large glossy poster advertising an event at a club that PJ had never heard of. Five huge men wearing tight black pants leaned against a bizarre piece of wooden furniture, all of them sporting the same harsh facial expression. Blatantly visible behind them on a wall was a massive display of whips and floggers, paddles and canes.
Spinning on her heels, PJ found the real thing behind her. With a tentative step, she reached out and touched one. The flogger was beautifully made, black and red leather woven intricately around the handle, but it was the strands that she stroked, her mind drifting as the soft texture brushed over her fingers. She’d always wondered what it would feel like to be struck, on the back of her thighs, her ass—her breasts, and maybe it was just the location, or the fact that she was completely surrounded by every conceivable kind of sex toy, but for the first time ever, PJ followed that fantasy, seeing her naked body bent at the waist, her wrists secured, her thighs wide, bound and—“Ahh.”
A needy little sigh escaped her, but it was the distinctly male huff that had her turning back to find a tall, dark haired man standing directly behind her. Light green eyes, deep set under a slash of black brows followed her hand as it fell to her side.
“It’s lovely that one, has a real snap at the end.”
He smiled, flashing a little too much teeth for PJ’s liking.
“Have you ever been flogged, Pet?”
“No.” With a rapidly increasing pulse, PJ took a step back.
“You’re curious though, aren’t you?”
If she was, she certainly wasn’t about to tell the rather creepy stranger who appeared to be stripping her clothes off with his eyes. “No.”
He laughed, actually threw his head back and laughed.
“If you say so.”
In a rush, PJ headed further down the aisle. She could feel him watching, his gaze hot and heavy as she rounded the corner to find some more familiar objects. A myriad of vibrators and dildos lined the shelves, but she knew what she wanted and found it easily. Grabbing the bright pink Dorcel vibrator, she wedged it under her arm and kept browsing.
After some serious blushing and deep calming breaths, she approached the counter just as a woman appeared from a side door carrying an armful of books, the top couple slowly sliding off. Dropping her items on the counter, PJ reached to steady the teetering pile.
“Thanks.” The woman smiled. “Thought I’d bitten off more than I could chew.”
Carefully she pushed the stack to one side before picking up PJ’s items.
“Good choice. I have one of these and I love it.”
“Well, anything’s got to be better than what I’ve just had.”Ohh, God that sounded bitchy, but it was true. Sam had been a monumental let down on all fronts, not that she was bitter.
While she waited, PJ glanced over at the pile of books. The cover was beautiful with its silver handcuffs, casually lying on a plaited leather whip and a coil of silk rope, all three displayed in front of an imposing black door. Embossed across the top in heavy black font was the title, ‘The best kept secrets, ten clubs you never knew existed.’
“Is that for real?” Tentatively touching the book like it might bite, PJ opened it.
“Ah yeah, it’s not for sale though, not to the general public anyway.”
“Okay, let me rephrase. It’s not for sale to crazies or Christians, these are all pre-orders for our bondage groups. It’s like the bible of the world’s most exclusive clubs.” All wild black hair and eyeliner, the woman leaned closer, a coy little smile curving her bright pink lips. “Funny thing is, we sell it to them, but none of them will ever get through those doors.”
“Why?” God, she sounded naïve, but PJ really wanted to know.
“They’re all exclusive, money talks in those scenes. They set the membership fees through the roof so only a certain caliber of society can join, then they screen them from head to toe so only the gorgeous, rich people get to play.”
“Fair enough, I suppose.” As PJ flicked over the first few pages, she was instantly struck by the opulence of the scene before her, the staged rooms, the ominous lighting focusing on a single piece of furniture that looked like it was designed to torment, and probably was. That fact didn’t seem to stop her heart rate, which increased of a sudden.
“If you want one, you can buy one. You don’t look like you’re going to be spray painting their front doors anytime soon.”
Closing the book before any other unexpected visceral reactions struck her, PJ smiled. She wasn’t usually this highly strung, but then again it had been a hell of a week.
“Is that what they’re worried about?” Her items, now bagged, were placed in front of her.
“Uh huh. Certain people.” The woman studied PJ, her gaze openly critical, “find the whole lifestyle offensive. Some famous faces have been named and shamed when technically that’s what they’re paying for, the right to go somewhere, close the door and become the person they really want to be, even if it’s only every third Saturday of the month.”
Handing over her credit card, PJ said nothing when a copy of the book was slipped into her bag, the exuberant price no doubt added to her bill.
“Each to their own, I say.”
PJ was still thinking about her intense reaction to the images in the book when she got home. But that distraction was quickly overshadowed by another more depressing one when she opened the door to find the answering machine flashing once again. Her first thought was Sam, possibly calling as he’d stood on her doorstep this morning, wondering where the fuck she was. Her next thought was Becky, although deep down, PJ knew her self-centred, two-faced ex-best friend would never take responsibility for what she’d done. This would be no different.
Her hands were actually shaking when she hit the button, her legs too as Derrick’s monotone drawl boomed around her hallway, ranting about details and dates, sales projections, visas and flights. It was the final nail in her coffin because as terrified as she was about taking this trip, she simply couldn’t afford not to. With a mortgage to pay and her weekly bills, she was trapped, financially tethered to the wanker until she could secure another job. Refusing to let that depressing thought take hold, PJ picked up her bags and headed for the kitchen, for wine … or possibly the vodka.