Undone Lovers, Book 4
They weren’t going to dress her up as sexy Mrs. Claus. Kiara Portner might be a fetish model and bondage-friendly clothing designer, but there were some things she’d prefer to keep separate from the world of kink clubs and leather. That included Christmas.
When C&C Productions called looking for a model for a holiday-themed BDSM shoot, she’d jumped at the chance. C&C’s photo book “BDSM 101” had been applauded not only by the kink community, but by members of the vanilla community as well. She’d even seen it displayed on the front table of a big chain bookstore—though the book came wrapped in plastic so curious youngsters couldn’t open it up and get and eyeful of some very sexy and artfully graphic photos.
The model in BDSM 101, Adelita Sanchez, had been a bit of a cult sensation on Instagram before the book. Now she had nearly half a million followers and was launching her own line of clothing to be carried at major retailers, not just at Lulu L’amore, a rockabilly store on Melrose.
Kiara wanted to be Addie when she grew up, though considering Kiara had just turned twenty-five, perhaps she needed to phrase that differently.
C&C’s book had launched Addie’s career, and if rumor was to be believed, one of the three Doms who had topped her in the “BDSM 101” photos was now her fiancé. Getting a call from C&C had been the most exciting thing to happen to Kiara in years. If she could get even a fraction of the exposure Addie had, she’d be ecstatic. Hell, if she could walk out of it with a relationship she’d be even happier. Kiara’s relationships with her play and scene partners were strong and healthy, but her love life was a dark void. She’d tried once before to mix kink and romance and the resulting broken heart had affected her deeply. What Addie had—a lover who was also her Dom—was the exception, not the rule, and wanting that for herself wasn’t something Kiara would ever admit to except in the deepest, quietest places in her own thoughts.
Kiara resisted the urge to fiddle with her clothing. The brown distressed leather corset-style top and leather and lace skirt were both of her own design. Pair the top with jeans and a jacket and anyone could wear it during the day. Change the jeans to black skinny dress pants, and the top would work for a night out with the right hair and jewelry. The skirt could be mixed with a peasant blouse for a modern boho look, a silky black tank, or even a white button down.
At least, that’s what she put in the product descriptions in her online store. She’d only sold a half dozen of each of the pieces. Since each was made by hand, and she used ethically sourced leather, they were expensive enough that she’d sell better in a high-end boutique than purely through online sales.
She’d worn the outfit in order to showcase her personal style. She was hoping that if they hired her for the job, she might be able to wear some of her own pieces in the photoshoot.
Not that she expected to be wearing much. This was, after all, a “holiday kink” project.
The only thing she’d asked during the initial phone interview was whether she’d have to be slutty Mrs. Claus. That was a line she wasn’t willing to cross. There weren’t many of those, but C&C Productions had assured her that they weren’t doing anything so pedestrian, and that the producer had some really great, non-kitsch ideas.
Unable to hold in her fidgets any longer, Kiara lifted her skirt off her thighs and let it drop. It was September in LA, and though there were plenty of ads featuring people wearing scarves while they frolicked in the fall foliage, it had been hot enough this past week that the beaches were still packed with locals trying to escape the heat. The discreet office building in North Hollywood, not far from Van Nuys, had good air conditioning, but she’d gotten sweaty during the long drive from Torrance. Despite the ten minutes she’d been sitting in the waiting room she wasn’t totally cooled down yet. Leather was not a breathable fabric.
“Ms. Portner?” The receptionist was standing and leaning forward over the desk so she could see Kiara around the potted plant that was the Spartan lobby’s only sign of life.
“Yes?” Kiara rose to her feet, her leather portfolio—which she’d also made—clutched in one sweaty hand.
“Helen is coming. She’ll meet you at that door.” The receptionist pointed at the plain door just behind her desk. “Sorry, they just moved to new offices and the signs haven’t been hung yet.”
“Thank you.” Kiara took a few steps, bracing one hand on the counter part of the reception desk. She’d worn these heels a million times, but nerves were making her ankles wobbly.
The door opened and a heavyset woman wearing a beautifully tailored black top with an elegant boat neck smiled.
“Kiara Portner?” The woman gave her a frank, appraising look and held out her hand.
“Yes, ma’am.” Kiara gripped the other woman’s hand in a firm-but-not-too-firm shake.
“I’m Helen. It’s a pleasure to meet you, please come back. That’s a lovely outfit.”
Kiara followed her through the door. Behind it stretched a long hallway. At the end of the hall she could see a reception desk of black-veined white stone, a stylized C&C etched into the marble. Wall-size canvas wrap prints of images from “BDSM 101” decorated the hallway.
Though Kiara knew the book was in color, the photos lining the walls were black and white, as was the office decor. The carpet was charcoal grey, walls stark white, and all the doors high-gloss black. She felt like she’d walked from a nondescript office space in North Hollywood into a sleek business in a Manhattan high rise.
She stopped to look at one of the photos. It had been taken from above and behind the woman while she reclined on the arm of a couch, legs spread, white rope crisscrossing her skin. Her bare breasts and spread thighs were visible, but not in focus. Her face was the focus. Adelita Sanchez’s head was tipped back, so her face was upside down to the camera. Her eyes were wide, her lips parted. Pleasure and surprise—perhaps surprise because of the pleasure—were easy to read on the woman’s expressive face.
“Lovely, isn’t it?” Helen asked.
“It is. I follow her on Instagram.” Kiara cleared her throat then hesitantly said, “I design clothes too.”
“Ah. And did you make what you have on?”
“Please, call me Helen. Remind me and I’ll call Lulu. She owns a boutique, and might be interested in meeting you.”
Kiara suppressed an excited scream but couldn’t stop her grin. Helen had to be talking about Lulu, the owner of Lulu L’amore. Kiara had spent more than a few afternoons browsing at Lulu’s—not the original on Melrose, but the third location in Long Beach. “I would appreciate that so much.”
Helen chuckled lightly. “Of course, of course. Though if you make it big, I expect you to design me something. This top is an Addie original.”
Kiara’s grin widened. Even if she wasn’t selected for the modeling job, this meeting was already a win. “It would be my pleasure.”
Kiara was still grinning like a fool when Helen opened a glossy black door and ushered her into a small conference room. The conference table was high gloss white, the chairs minimalist black, and the two short walls were wallpapered with jumbo images from “BDSM 101”—the right-hand wall showed a woman’s raised arms amid a forest of chains, the nails of her hands the size of dinner plates. The second wall bore an image of a man wearing black leather pants, his upper body bare. His body was in focus, the woman bound over a spanking bench a blurry outline in the background.
There was one occupant in the room. He sat on the far side of the conference table, chair swiveled away so he could look out the wall of windows opposite where they’d entered. The windows backlit him, so at first he was only a dark outline of shoulders and a head of longish hair.
“Please, have a seat, Ms. Portner.” Helen gestured to a spot directly across the table from the man, where a bottle of water waited.
Kiara set her portfolio down and pulled out her chair. The man turned as she started to take her seat.
She collapsed into the chair in shock.
Anyone but him.
“Ms. Portner? Kiara?” Helen asked.
Kiara yanked her gaze away from the man to look at Helen. She had a bad feeling her mouth was open and she looked like an idiot.
For a moment she thought she caught a glint of some dark, wicked amusement in Helen’s eyes. “I believe you know Mr. Erebus?”
Kiara nodded woodenly.
Reis Erebus was sitting across the table from her, and she was now in the middle of one of her personal nightmares.
Maybe nightmare wasn’t the word. When she dreamed of Reis she woke up aroused and needy. It was only after waking that memories would make her stomach clench with remembered embarrassment.
Reis looked older, which made sense since it was five years since she’d seen him. She’d been a fresh-faced, naive twenty, though she’d thought she was much more sophisticated and worldly than she was. Reis had made her realize her own naiveté, in the most painful way possible.
He was still handsome. Maybe even more handsome than he had been before. He’d been thirty when she met him—she knew that because she’d met him at his thirtieth birthday party. Back then he’d had just the faintest smile lines around his mouth. Now they were etched into his cheeks, like parentheses on either side of his mouth.
His beautiful, beautiful mouth.
He had full lips for a man, but they were the only soft thing about him. He’d been all hard muscle, and from what she could see of him that hadn’t changed. His hair was longer now than it had been. His eyes were still an eerie clear green, and combined with hints of red in his hair, he looked like some Celtic warrior king of old come to life.
There were a dozen questions she wanted to ask—how did Helen know they’d played together before? Did Helen know what happened between them? Did Reis know she was being considered for this job? Worse, had he asked Helen to bring her in for an interview?
If the answer to the last one was yes, then why? After what had happened between them before, there was no way Reis would want to be anywhere near her ever again.
She was never going to get this job.
That was hard to swallow. She’d had such high hopes—had convinced herself that landing this job would be the turning point for her both professionally and personally.
Her throat tightened, and she fought the need to scream in frustration. But she wouldn’t do that. She wouldn’t show any emotion.
Her priority was now getting out of this room without making a complete fool of herself. She’d worked hard to forget about that weekend, about Reis and everything that had happened between them.
But from the way he was looking at her, Reis hadn’t forgotten.
Kiara’s gaze met his, and it was like an electric shock ran through her. She’d slumped—at much as the corset top would allow—when she dropped into the chair. When his gaze met hers, she straightened her back, relaxed her shoulders, and folded her hands in her lap. Then she lowered her gaze to the table top, staring at the stitching around the edges of her portfolio.
All it took was a look from him and she assumed the perfect submissive posture.
“Wonderful,” Helen said, and Kiara thought she heard a hint of something dark and wicked in the woman’s voice. “You two will be perfect. Give me a minute to have the contracts printed and we can talk details.”
Kiara turned her head, careful to keep her gaze down until she could look up at Helen. “Ma’am?”
“You’re hired, Kiara. That is, assuming you still want the job?”
The words were out before she could stop them. Her brain was still focused on all the good things this could mean—contacts, exposure. Her heart was jumping up and down screaming “Bad idea, brain! Bad idea!”
“Good. I’ll give you two a moment to chat.”
Helen got up and walked out of the conference room.
Leaving her alone with the first, and only, man she’d ever called Master.
He’d told himself that she wouldn’t be as lovely as he remembered. He’d seen plenty of pictures of her in the five years since that memorable weekend, but he’d told himself that Instagram lied. That in person he wouldn’t feel drawn to her, wouldn’t find the curve of her chin or her long eyelashes captivating.
He’d been wrong. Wonderfully, deliciously wrong.
She was more alluring now than she had been five years ago.
Her neck and shoulders were left bare by the intriguing leather top she wore. It came up high enough to offer only a hint of cleavage. From what he could see, her breasts looked bigger than they had before. Her whole body looked lusher, fuller. She was a woman now, and had been a girl back then.
“Yes—” She stopped speaking, lips pressing together. What had she been about to say? Yes, Sir? Yes, Master?
Damn, he hoped it was the latter. And the fact that he wanted that proved just what a son of a bitch he was.
He watched her chest rise and fall as she drew a careful breath in through her nose, then she looked up, meeting his gaze for a half second, before instead focusing on his nose.
“Reis. It’s been a long time.”
He waited. He liked silence. There wasn’t a Dom worth the title who didn’t know how to wait out a sub in silence. And Kiara had been particularly susceptible to this tactic.
Minutes passed and she didn’t speak.
She’d grown. Changed.
Damn it. Had he lost his chance?
He rubbed his chin with his knuckles. He knew he should stay silent, keep waiting. But he wanted to hear her voice.
“I’m looking forward to…” He drew the next words out deliberately. “…working with you.”
That got a reaction out of her. “Maybe Helen should find someone else.” She spun her chair towards the door.
“You know why,” she whispered. There was pain in her voice.
He didn’t want that. “We were good together.”
She winced. “This was a mistake.”
“No, it wasn’t.”
“Did you…” She didn’t twist back to face him. She was staring at the image of Alton and Adelita Sanchez. Reis knew Alton from the scene. He’d even sent a difficult sub or two to Alton for correction.
Seeing Alton, who had once been one of the most feared Doms in LA, living in domestic bliss with a red-headed crazy woman was one of the things that had started Reis thinking about changing his own lifestyle.
As soon as he’d started imagining himself living in kinkster bliss, he’d known exactly who he wanted to settle down with.
Reis had several elaborate win-Kiara-back plans in development when Helen had contacted him. C&C had Kiara on a short list of women they were considering for a BDSM holiday shoot. In the process of looking into her background someone, probably Alton—who’d been at Reis’s infamous thirtieth birthday party—had told Helen about his and Kiara’s dramatic past.
C&C had contacted him to see if he’d been interested in joining the project. He hadn’t been, until they told him who else they were considering.
“Did I what?” he asked.
She swallowed. He could see the movement in her slender neck. It had been five years but he would swear he could still remember the way her skin smelled. He did remember how she’d reacted when he kissed the tender flesh behind her ear.
“Did you ask them to consider me?”
He was looking at her in profile, so he couldn’t fully read her expression. “Is that what you think?”
“The answer matters to you?”
The fine muscles in her jaw clenched, standing out in contrast to her creamy pale skin. She had freckles on her cheeks and nose that she mostly kept covered with makeup. The ones on her chests and arms were harder to hide, but he knew she tried.
She was angry, and that was good. If she was angry she’d talk. She’d be honest. She’d open up.
But instead of doing any of those things she stood, turned on her heel, and started to leave.
“Kiara, wait.” He leapt to his feet and for a moment seriously considered sliding across the table rather than wasting time going around.
Helen opened the door, carrying an armful of papers. She nearly crashed into Kiara. “Oh, Kiara.”
“I’m sorry. I have to go. Thank you very much for the opportunity.” Kiara’s words were rushed, and even as she spoke she was trying to inch around Helen to get out the door.
“Kiara, if you’re not interested in working with Mr. Erebus we can find another Dom.”
Damn it. No.
Kiara blinked. “What?”
“If you would rather not participate, then by all means, I won’t prevent you from leaving.” Helen stepped into the room, leaving the doorway unobstructed. “But if your objection is to your partner… If you’d rather not work with Reis, we will find another Dom.”
Kiara blinked. “You’d replace him, not me?”
Helen shot Reis a glance. He shrugged, though he felt like a kid with his hand caught in the cookie jar.
Helen focused on Kiara. “I thought you two would have discussed this. Since it appears you did not, let me explain. Mr. Erebus was invited to participate due to his connection with you.”
“Connection?” Kiara looked between them. “What, uh, what were you told about our connection?”
Helen waved her hand as if it didn’t matter. “Only that you two had good chemistry. That’s what we want. The interactions between the players have to be real and powerful. We’re not making graphic pornography, we’re capturing the power of the power exchange. In order for that to translate to film, the connection has to be genuine.”
“You’d find another Dom?” Kiara asked. “But I still have the job?”
Reis clenched his jaw. “No, Kiara.” She would not find another Dom, damn it. She was his.
She whipped around to face him. She had hazel eyes, the centers citrine with a dark rim of brown. “You don’t get to give me orders, Reis.”
A shiver worked its way down her body, and even from the other side of the table he could see her skin tightening into goosebumps.
“It’s your choice, Kiara,” Helen said softly.
Damn it, he was losing her. He’d read something somewhere, probably on the cover of a magazine at a doctor’s office, about how being willing to be vulnerable was the key to relationships.
Though it made his left eye twitch to let his guard slip even this much, Reis said, “Please, Kiara. What we had was special. I’d like to…I’d like to be with you again.”
He sounded like a moron. Probably looked like one too.
Well, that sealed it, she was going to start laughing hysterically and then walk out the door.
And he’d deserve it.
Hopefully he wouldn’t start crying like a little bitch until she’d hit the parking lot. Not that he would actually cry. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d cried. Maybe the last time he watched Field of Dreams.
But if anything were going to make him cry, it would be losing his chance to get back his girl. The one who got away.
Kiara looked at him, her face softening, losing the pinched, tense expression. Her lips parted and he could see her white teeth and just a hint of soft pink tongue. His heart started pounding in his chest and stupid, desperate hope made his stomach twist.
Was he really getting this worked up over a sub?
No. Not a sub. Kiara. That was the whole point. She was so much more, and he’d just been too stupid to understand.
Pull yourself together. They were going to revoke his Dom card and man card on the same damned day.
“I’ll do it,” she said, still looking at Reis.
“With Reis, or would you like us to find someone else?” Helen asked.
Reis’s eye twitched, but he didn’t say anything. His knee jerk reaction was to try and control the situation to get what he wanted. This time he was going to be smarter than that.
“I’ll do it…with Reis.”
He had to brace his palms flat on the table top to stop himself from sagging in relief. “I won’t be easy on you,” he warned. Even if he’d wanted to be gentle, that wasn’t the kind of Dom he was.
“I know.” Kiara looked at Helen. “What do we do now?”
Helen held up the papers. “Time to negotiate the contract.”
The set was delightfully Christmas kitsch free. Instead of naughty Mrs. Claus, or Santa’s workshop turned BDSM dungeon, C&C had decided to go for a winter wonderland theme. Kiara hugged her robe closed over her stomach, as if the snow-covered ground were actually cold.
It wasn’t. The winter wonderland set had been built inside a large soundstage. Kiara had never been part of something this large-scale or professional. The photographer, a lovely woman ironically named Summer, was working with gaffers to set up and adjust lighting.
There was a producer, another lovely woman named Anan who had only been with C&C for six months. This was her first major project and she seemed desperate to make sure Kiara was happy. Kiara had been offered everything from coffee to a wheatgrass shot since she’d arrived. Her makeup had been professionally done, but Kiara had opted to do her own hair. She didn’t want to feel like someone else, and having her hair and makeup done by others would make an already strange situation seem surreal.
Her dressing room was a folding table and padded chair set up behind a black curtain. She’d been told that Reis had a dressing area beside hers, but she had yet to see him.
Kiara had a detailed contract that outlined what could and couldn’t be done over the course of the next three days, but that didn’t mean she knew exactly what would happen, or when.
They were deliberately hiding the toys from her too, behind yet another set of freestanding black curtains, which the producer called pipe and drape. The photographer, Summer, had admitted hiding the toys had been her suggestion, saying that she wanted Kiara’s reactions to be genuine.
Kiara was sure she was going to have some very “genuine” reactions, but it wouldn’t be to the toys. Or at least, not only to the toys.
After five years she was once more going to submit to Reis. To the man who had helped her open her eyes to her own sexual truth. With Reis she’d learned exactly how deep her own needs ran. Discovered she liked more pain than she’d previously admitted. Discovered she was more into the B and M of BDSM, when previously she’d been sure that what she wanted was to be submissive but not kinky.
She’d learned all that, and had her heart broken into a thousand glass-sharp pieces, over the course of a long three-day weekend.
And now she was about to spend another three days with him.
“All these people won’t be here.”
Kiara hadn’t heard him approach and jumped. “Reis.”
His hand cupped her elbow. It was the first time he’d touched her, and Kiara startled again. His hand was hot though the thin satin robe she wore.
“Let’s walk while they finish setting up.”
Kiara finally turned to face him, the movement causing her elbow to slip out of his hold. He frowned.
“I’m, ah, I’m not wearing shoes.”
“We won’t go outside. I checked, they’re almost done.”
She didn’t really have anything better to do, so Kiara followed him away from the sets. When he took her elbow as they picked their way over large coils of black cable, she didn’t shrug him off.
“Do you still live in LA?” His tone was light, conversational. As if they were old friends catching up.
“Yes. Well, in Torrance. What about you?”
“I actually moved up to Santa Barbara.”
“Are you still buying and selling sugar?” She kept her tone gentle and teasing. It was surprisingly easy to follow his lead and keep the conversation light.
He laughed lightly. “No. Commodities futures is a young man’s game.”
“You’re thirty-five, not sixty.”
“I would look like I was sixty if I’d kept doing it. Too much stress.”
“So what do you do now?”
“That’s not exactly low-stress.”
“No, it’s not, but there’s always a solution, an answer. That’s nice.”
“What do you buy? I mean houses, apartments?”
“Actually, I bought a mall and turned it into apartments.”
That startled a laugh out of her. “You mean someone can live in an old shoe store?”
He looked down, as if checking for obstructions, but they were walking in the open space on the far side of the sound stage. Large carts stacked with boxes made a sort of maze, but there were no cables on the floor.
Wait, was he embarrassed?
Reis cleared his throat. “Everything has been redone, but the basic structure of a mall makes it easy to rework. And the residents are all…it’s actually a senior living facility.”
Kiara pressed her lips together. “You own a retirement facility.”
Reis stopped walking, keeping ahold of her elbow so she was forced to stop too. “Are you laughing at me, Kiara?” There was menace in his voice, but it was playful.
It wasn’t anger she feared hearing from him, but indifference.
“Of course not.” She reached out to pat his chest.
He captured her hand, pressing it against his ice-blue dress shirt, over his heart.
Kiara inhaled with deliberate slowness. If she hadn’t she might have started hyperventilating. He had both of his hands on her. The heat pouring into her was more than just the physical warmth of his body. The way he looked at her, as if there was no one else in the world, was so intense, so arousing, that her mind registered it as physical heat.
Beneath her robe and the corsets her nipples tightened into needy points.
“Kiara.” His gaze searched her face, as if memorizing it. He was looking at her as if he’d been alone in the dark and hers was the first face he’d seen since being freed.
But that didn’t make any sense. He was the one who had pushed her away. Who kindly dismissed her, as if what had happened between them meant nothing.
“Reis, Kiara, we’re ready for you. Everyone, please clear the building.” The voice boomed over a loudspeaker, and Kiara jumped back, breaking her physical contact with Reis.
His brows lowered into a glower. “Bad timing.”
No, the timing was excellent, because she needed to stay in the moment. If she started thinking about what had happened five years ago she would either run screaming or turn on him in rage. This was just business. Just a photoshoot. A kinky one, but a photoshoot. Not a scene. Not a munch.
It’s more than that to him. He said he wanted to be with you again. He’s looking at you like he has feelings for you. Real feelings. Strong feelings.
Five years ago she’d had her heart ripped out and her romantic fantasies burned to ash. Since then she’d been cautious with her body, and fiercely protective of her heart.
Last week at the C&C offices her heart had been warning her to run. But after Reis’s admission that he wanted to be with her, her heart had switched teams.
Kiara turned and hurried away from Reis, back towards the set, her shoulders hunched up around her ears.
She didn’t know why Reis had said what he did, but one sentence didn’t negate what had happened between them all those years ago.
She was practical, especially when it came to BDSM.
She would not let her emotions get involved.
She would not fall in love with Reis.