PICK YOUR PLEASURE 2
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Brooklyn should’ve kept walking.
Eavesdropping on Underground’s owner and his right-hand man couldn’t be good for long-term job security. Everyone knew Henry Emerson valued his privacy. Hell, she’d worked at his elite sex club for two years and had discovered next to nothing about the man. How could she when she’d said fewer than a dozen words to him personally?
Their lack of verbal communication didn’t keep the hairs on her nape from lifting sometimes, right before she caught him surveying her from across the room.
Despite how madly Brooklyn loved her career as a coach in the more advanced aspects of BDSM, and as a general guest host—which meant she got paid to party, or not, however she liked—her fascination with the man at Underground’s helm grew by the hour. Maybe because of the animal grace he possessed as he stalked the floor of the club. His killer good looks hadn’t hurt either. Dark hair cropped close was perpetually combed almost too neat with a hint of muss on top to save him from earning a reputation as totally anal. Rich walnut eyes she felt compelled to gaze into at every opportunity were impossible to ignore. And that body…
It was a body that put all others to shame when he strutted bare-chested through the sweaty throngs of a weekend crowd.
Vivid memories assaulted Brooklyn. She’d spotted Henry just last night, something about him even more fierce than usual. He’d flashed her his bared teeth, though the rusty gesture had probably been intended as a smile. Brooklyn had glanced away from the intensity of his stare, her attention catching on the ebony leather cuff he wore around his wrist. No one, not even her newbie guest, would have been foolish enough to mistake the adornment for a sign of submission.
Although Brooklyn typically liked to hold the reins in a relationship, she knew she’d let him drive her wherever he wanted to go. If only he’d approached her instead of maintaining that infuriating distance.
Unfortunately, he had strict do-not-cross lines drawn in bold slashes between him and the club’s staff. At least when it came to playing. Though he sometimes treated a special guest to personal attention, even those occasions had been sparse—though spectacular—since she’d joined Underground’s ranks.
Something was up with Henry.
It was in her nature to be the curious sort, especially when it came to human emotions and complex individuals with conflicted needs. He ticked all of her boxes.
So when she wandered past a seating area in the club’s extensive gardens and heard two men who could only be her boss, Oscar, and her boss’s boss, Henry, she slowed her steps to catch a wisp of their conversation.
Was it so wrong to ferret out even a sliver of intel about the guy who’d infatuated her from the start? She held nothing in reserve when she performed at the club. Henry—and Oscar, too, for that matter—had witnessed every bit of her passion.
All of her soul.
Usually, the brisk evening air helped her prepare for her clients. Calming her own psyche and focusing on external stimuli ensured she granted her partner’s wishes, overt or subconscious, whatever they might be. Now, the close proximity to the object of her own fantasies caused her logical brain to go haywire.
Desire replaced it.
Instant arousal burned through her veins when she neared the subject of her fascination.
Muting the click of her boot heels by shifting her weight to her toes, Brooklyn kidded herself. She rationalized her stalking by convincing herself she was unwilling to interrupt the friends-slash-partners who seemed to be having a candid personal discussion.
Her gut told her Henry didn’t open up often.
Through the manicured bushes, she took one peek at the strong profile she so admired.
A glimpse of the man who starred in her dreams? Check.
A long enough look to satisfy any part of her? Hell, no.
Even so, she slipped behind a fanciful spiraled topiary, making do with the growl of his deep, smoky voice—a delight for her ears if not her eyes.
“I guess you heard I’m in the doghouse.” Henry chuckled, making Brooklyn press her thighs together a little tighter.
“Exactly how pissed was Linley when you told her that you own Underground? Or was it your family fortune she flipped out over? Maybe the fact that you own the entire building her office is in? No, no, it had to freak her out that you weren’t applying for the role of head of security the day she ran into you in her waiting room, but doing a real estate check of your own… I bet that was what put her over the edge.” Oscar, the club’s manager, gloated with his assessment. It probably wasn’t every day someone put Henry in his place, and the manager was far too good at excavating information.
Oscar could read people like open books. It was one reason he insisted on greeting each guest personally. Every night. Preemptively discerning their mood and probable requests was both a skill and a delight for the enigmatic man. Plenty of women and guys alike had asked for him to be their Underground partner. Only, like his boss—more extreme even—he never indulged. At least not that Brooklyn had ever heard of, and she’d had her ear to the ground.
Too similar, these two amazing men. And still so very different.
Oscar, sleek and refined. Henry, suave though a little rough around the edges. Strong and imposing. A lion wrapped in fine trappings like his five thousand dollar suit, which didn’t fool her for a second. It’d take more than fine fabric to obscure his primal energy.
Displaying some of his gruffness, the sound of curses mixed with Henry cracking his knuckles. “Linley threatened to eliminate me from her protection detail once she realized I’d never spent a dime of her paychecks and had been reinvesting my salary and bonuses in her company’s physical and information security.”
“So then she probably took it twice as hard when she found out…”
“I didn’t share the granddaddy lie yet.” Henry sighed. “One thing at a time. I wanted to give her a chance to adjust to the rest first. You know how much she means to me. As a friend, as family, not only as my boss lady. Though I’d like her to keep me around too. What the hell will I do if she kicks me to the curb? I couldn’t chance it.”
“As if you need to work.” Oscar probably shook his head. “You’ve been watching her ass for years because you want to, not because you have to.”
“I watch her back, not her ass, Ozzie,” Henry reminded his second in command. He could never run the place without Oscar’s help. Or maybe he could if his attention stopped being divided between Underground and Lane Technology. “Not that I’m looking. Ever. Shit. But I’m sure her guy would object to that in any case these days. Probably kick a man’s teeth in for ogling her.”
“Damn straight.” Oscar grunted. Brooklyn could imagine his accompanying smirk. “I’ve never seen a man as possessive as he is over Linley. You may be out of a job soon, Hen. He’ll never let anyone hurt her. It’s not a problem anymore.”
“As long as the girl’s safe, I’m happy.” Henry shrugged. “Mostly. I never had a purpose before her. Not one that mattered.”
“So you’ll have to find something else to keep you occupied. Though, seriously, I believe what you do here—the opportunities you give guests to explore safely, anonymously, and meet the partner of their dreams—that’s valuable.” Oscar got a little quieter. “You of all people should understand that.”
“Exactly. My whole life, once friends knew who I really was—what I had—everything changed. It was wrong to keep Linley in the dark so long. But once I realized how well we worked together, I couldn’t risk telling her and having everything go to shit. Like it did with Amanda…and Elizabeth…and Emilia…”
His string of women grew muffled, as if he dropped his head in his hands.
Brooklyn wanted to kick those bitches’ asses for hurting Henry. How could they have been dumb enough to let something as meaningless as wealth ruin a relationship with a world-class man?
Maybe they’d given her a chance. From her own experience, she knew nothing mattered as much as love. Money couldn’t buy faithfulness or the soul-deep yearning she witnessed whenever she glimpsed Linley and her lover in one of Underground’s lounges. Now that was something to fight for. It reminded Brooklyn of how her parents had gazed at each other…before the accident.
“I understand why you took the approach you did with Linley. But if we’re talking about other women, perhaps your strategy is wrong. Why not start at the club, where everyone’s on the same footing and knows the score?” Oscar attempted to plant ideas in Henry’s mind. “I know you’re worried women like you for the wrong reasons, but I think between you and me, our bullshit meters are pretty well honed. Don’t you?”
Henry sighed. “Yeah, probably. You could be right. Or I’m setting my expectations too damn high. There aren’t many women who could put up with my diverse tastes, never mind enjoy everything I do. To find one who doesn’t give a shit about how many digits are in my bank balance on top of that… It’s a lot to aim for.”
“Don’t lose hope.” Ozzie’s reply came muffled, as if he’d angled more toward his friend.
The thought of Henry, vulnerable and needy, only turned Brooklyn on more. Dangerous with a soft spot? Yes, please. Sign her up right now.
“I could say the same to you, friend.” Henry returned the club manager’s sentiment. Brooklyn knew Oscar never let Henry down, always keeping things precisely in order. Yet, lately, they’d both been brooding. Maybe stuck in their ruts where before they’d appeared to thrive in their roles. If they were her guests, Brooklyn would recommend shaking things up and trying something out of their comfort zones.
Like fooling around with the help.
“It’s impossible to find what you’re looking for when you can’t make up your mind about what it is you want.” The greeter groaned. “At least you know you’re searching for a woman. That narrows it down some.”
“Nothing says you can’t find a guy and a girl to keep you busy, Ozzie.” A clap rang out in the still dusk as Henry probably connected his hand on his friend’s shoulder. She could picture the gesture she’d seen him make several times in the past. “Why choose? Sometimes I have a scoop of vanilla and a scoop of chocolate in my sundaes.”
Brooklyn licked her lips.
Oscar paused before he laughed, a rare release for the calm, collected man.
“Just think about it, huh?” Henry sounded so serious and compassionate.
“I will…if you consider something for me.” Oscar’s tone lightened.
“What’s that?” Henry sounded wary.
“Your favorite flavor…” Oscar’s taunt was filled with smoke, sexy enough to have Brooklyn shifting behind the hedge.
She balled her fists, prepared to etch a rival’s name into her memory so she could hate the cow forever.
“What the hell are you talking about?” Henry scoffed.
“Little Miss Brooklyn?” Oscar singled her out. “Don’t act like you haven’t been sticking to her like glue. I bet you’ve seen every single one of her demonstrations in the past year.”
“Keeping an eye on our employees, that’s all,” Henry grumbled.
“Oh, come on.” Oscar snorted. “You’ve given her way more attention than she’s warranted. She’s never had a single complaint lodged against her, unless it’s that she won’t spend more time with a guy once he’s gotten attached. Hell, you’ve probably cataloged every freckle on that pert ass by now, haven’t you?”
Henry persisted in his excuses, spewing bullshit that had Brooklyn’s hair about to burst into flames as she fumed. “Especially with our most advanced hosts, there’s always a measure of risk to the guests. Some of the veteran trainers get jaded, reckless…”
Like she felt right then. No one insulted her work. Especially not as a way to dodge their own steaming pile of emotional bullshit.
“Fuck you. I’m great at my job.” Brooklyn slapped her hands on her latex-clad hips and filled the pathway proudly. A row of delicate Japanese lanterns cast soft light over her bosses’ startled expressions. “And I would never put one of our visitors in harm’s way.”
“Ah, Brooklyn.” Oscar had the good grace to clear his throat and look as awkward as she’d ever seen him, which was saying something considering the antics of the club. Not even the time the senatorial candidate had sexted a photo of himself in a compromising position, risking the club’s shroud of secrecy and his own campaign, had Oscar seemed so uneasy. He shifted on the stone bench, his gaze winging between her and Henry.
“I didn’t know espionage was one of your talents.” Henry narrowed his eyes. “People don’t sneak up on me often.”
“There isn’t much you’ve bothered to learn about me.” She flexed her fingers on her waist, digging in to stop herself from showing any remorse at his lack of interest.
“Well, let’s start now then. What the hell were you doing out there spying on us?” Henry’s brows knit as he turned his chocolate gaze on her. “I should—”
“Fire me? Don’t bother.” Brooklyn couldn’t believe the words about to spill from her lips, but her fiery temper flared. Molten emotions ran beneath the sparks of her irritation. He had no idea what he’d stirred within her. She’d had enough disrespect in her life. She wasn’t going to take any more. Especially from an arrogant asshole like Henry. Even if he turned her on. Besides, his low opinion of her stung. More than she cared to admit. “If that’s what you really think of me and my skills, I quit.”
“I was going to say spank you. But…” Henry tapped his long index finger on the firm line of his lips, predictably not reacting with equal piss and vinegar. Did he have ice water in his veins?
That had been the problem all along, really. In the two years she’d worked here, he’d never once seemed to give a shit about her or the devotion she had to his adult playground other than as it related to keeping his customers happy. Where he’d chat and mingle with most of the other staff, he’d always been cool and aloof when it came to her. Sure, he watched, but he never applauded along with the rest of the club goers when she finished with a guest and never seemed invested in her success.
Well, fuck that.
Brooklyn spun to leave, catching Oscar’s raised brows in her peripheral vision a moment before their greeter whisper-shouted at Henry, “You’re not really going to let our best—”
She hadn’t made it two strides down the curved paver path before strong fingers landed on her wrist, completely shackling it. When had Henry moved toward her? She hadn’t even heard him coming. Maybe both of them were in for some surprises.
“Stop talking, Ozzie.” Henry silenced the manager with a single glare, which accompanied his bark.
It wasn’t the harsh mandate that had Brooklyn gasping. Instead, the brush of Henry’s thumb over her speeding pulse did the trick.
“Well, then. Since you’re no longer my employee, I can do what I’ve been wanting to for a while. Ask you out. Would you rather our first encounter be on familiar ground? Or do you want me to take you away from here right now, somewhere private?” Henry’s question flowed over her like smooth whiskey, intoxicating and poisonous if overindulged in.
“What an ego you have!” Brooklyn sneered.
“More like instinct. Don’t kiss me back and I’ll let you go,” he whispered to her as he settled his lips over hers and infused the taste of spice and man into her evening.
Resolute, she kept her mouth firm, unyielding as her spine, which stayed ramrod straight in his grasp. Warm fingers stroked the taut muscles of her back as he continued to persuade her to open for his tongue. The talented muscle prodded the seam of her grimace.
She was hanging tough until she allowed her eyes to drift open. The up-close-and-personal glimpse of the intensity in Henry’s gaze did her in.
Finally, some emotion.
Startled, she let out a tiny gasp—enough opportunity for him to weasel his way inside and deepen their kiss. The soft pulls of his mouth as he sucked on her lower lip resonated through her core.
Moisture gathered between her legs, washing away her resistance.
When Henry groaned into her mouth, she realized she had begun to return his advance, meeting him lick for lick with her tongue. Leaning into his secure embrace, she didn’t worry once that he’d let her fall when she dedicated herself to stealing a single taste of the forbidden.
And damn was it worth it. More decadent than a triple-layer chocolate cake.
The rake of his teeth had her slanting her mouth over his to fuse them more tightly, though such a thing would have been impossible given how he’d wrapped her in his arms as if they were a boa constrictor. She didn’t complain about being tucked to his toned body.
Not until he shattered her euphoria and brought her crashing back to reality by separating them enough to give her a glimpse of his shit-eating grin.
“Come on, Brooklyn. Don’t deny you feel this chemistry too. I can see your hard nipples through your uniform.” Henry singed her with a stare at her chest. Not lewd or degrading, more matter-of-fact, yet lascivious all the same.
She swallowed hard. If she was going to sacrifice her job—the only thing she loved to do, and excelled at in the world—she might as well make it worth it. Then she’d have the satisfaction of walking away from him and his club at the end of the night.
Or maybe the weekend.
Something told her they’d need at least that long to work this adrenaline-fueled attraction out of their systems.
Worrying about the rest could come later.
“What will it be?” Henry purred against her neck. “Where do you want me to take you?”
Saying no wasn’t an option. Because if nothing else, she was honest with herself. This man was exactly what she’d been craving for two long years. He was the reason she’d denied herself a personal lover outside the realm of her duties.
“Come on, Brooklyn.” He didn’t give her a chance to spook and change her mind. His thigh pressed between hers and she shivered. “Where will I make you mine?”