An Excerpt from Michele Zurlo's Re/Bound
Darcy riffled through the sheaf of papers on the counter in the elegant ladies’ room. Baskets of silk flowers brightened the spaces between each basin and brought out the floral pattern on the wallpaper. On a normal day, she would have appreciated the care someone had put into making a restroom a more pleasant place to be.
Friday evening meant most of the convention’s attendees were arriving. Tonight’s audience would probably be half empty because the speech took place before dinner. While the majority of people would make it in time for dinner, not as many would rush to see her speak. Sunday morning, the format would be informal, with her camouflaged among the panel of people, any of whom could field the questions. Of course, she would still need to make a short speech introducing herself and justifying her presence on the panel, and she would have to answer any questions asked of her directly. Her colleagues would depend on her to chime in when she saw them struggle for ideas.
Looking up, she caught a glimpse of her face in the mirror. At least the turmoil tearing apart her insides hadn’t ravaged her appearance. To outsiders she would appear cool and confident, put together just like she would have actually been if Scott had been there with her. But those little lines around her eyes and mouth only showed up during periods of intense stress.
The success of her company depended on her ability to get the word out about the services she offered. Conventions meant exposure, but they also meant public speaking.
She hated public speaking.
The majority of her responsibilities included writing grants and organizing charity divisions for larger companies. They ended up with some huge write-offs and tax breaks, and so many worthwhile charities benefited. She loved seeing the impact of her work on places and people who badly need help.
Before Scott had disappeared, public speaking hadn’t fazed her like this. He had a special way of calming her down. When he used that Dom voice, the tension threatening to turn her to stone melted away. Sometimes he would drape her over his knees and turn her bottom pink with the flat of his hand. Other times he would order her to her knees, and she would luxuriate in the caress of her favorite flogger.
After the speech, he would reward her for a job well done.
But now he was gone. Victor, her major client for the past several years, had clucked sympathetically and assured her that sometimes men just left. It wasn’t the right thing to say, but she knew his heart was in the right place. The police had interrogated her like a suspect when nobody could find him. Darcy knew something bad had happened. She knew he was gone for good, but not by choice. He never would have voluntarily left her.
Hot tears pricked the back of her eyelids, but she blinked them back. No matter what anyone else said, she knew her Master had loved her. They had planned to be married, and they had purchased a home together. Two weeks after they moved into their dream house, he had disappeared.
Eight months had elapsed, and she kept moving forward because she didn’t know what else to do. Her parents and her friends had never truly understood the turn her relationship with Scott had taken. They didn’t understand how badly she needed a Dom in her life, and not just any Dom. Scott was special. Scott had loved her, and she loved him.
The masochist in her loved pain, but not the emotional kind. She smoothed her skirt and reminded herself that he was gone. She would have to do this on her own. He would be so proud of her if he could see her now.
Darcy wiped her face and took a deep breath. She could do this.
* * * * *
The short hallway behind the main room of the convention center didn’t lead anywhere but to a door behind the podium. This single, guardable entrance had been built for security purposes. It would be easy to protect a person of importance here while the rest of the security detail swept the main room for suspicious activity.
Malcolm Legato stood across from the entrance to the hall. He leaned against a wall, casually watching the throng of people waiting for the doors to open. The number of people waiting to see Darcy Markovichspeak on a Friday night surprised him. He knew she was known for giving entertaining speeches that left the listener feeling like he could change the world, but he honestly didn’t think so many people would rush here from work so late on a Friday afternoon just to see her.
Apparently he had misjudged the situation.
For most people, that wouldn’t matter. However, Malcolm should have known. His research on her should have turned up evidence of her extreme popularity. He had thought the room would be nearly empty. From the looks of things, it was almost full. The official window for checking in to the convention closed in two hours, and most of the people with reservations were already here.
His reasons for being here were twofold. First, he needed to make contact with Victor Snyder or someone in his upper echelon, like Darcy Markovich. The groundwork for an undercover operation, which included a falsified juvenile hacking record in the name of his alias, Theo Stevenson, had been carefully set by his team. Malcolm’s genius with computers made him a natural choice for this assignment. Snyder needed a relatively new and unknown programming guru to create an updated system for his business so he could launder money more efficiently. He also needed tech help with his various pump-and-dump schemes, and Malcolm suspected Snyder had broken more than a few antitrust laws.
Malcolm aimed to position himself as the perfect choice to handle those kinds of enterprises.
The second reason for his presence at this event was less concrete. The disappearance of Scott Yataines had yet to be resolved. No trace of his whereabouts had been found, and no body had been recovered. The case seriously lacked for evidence and a solid motive.
Interviews with family and friends all pointed a suspicious finger toward Ms. Markovich. Yataines had been violent and abusive on several occasions, leaving Ms. Markovich with bruises and welts. While Malcolm couldn’t blame a woman for snapping under those conditions, his instructions included settling the issue satisfactorily so homicide could reasonably explore other options. If he brought in the killer, that would be icing on the cake. Malcolm had a hunch Snyder was involved with the disappearance, but he couldn’t find a motive there, either. Operating on intuition never went over well with the prosecutor’s office.
Also Markovich worked for Snyder. They had to know what part she played in the operation before they could decide how to use her as an asset.
Once he knew how to play Ms. Markovich, he would know exactly how to penetrate the layers of corruption at Snyder Corp.
Three sets of double doors opened, and the guests filtered through them, clearing the hallway of the discordant sounds of conversation. Malcolm didn’t move. He needed to make contact with Markovich before she entered the room. He would compliment her and ask her out for drinks. A little alcohol made women loose-lipped, and all women liked to complain about their past boyfriends.
His first sight of her made him catch his breath. The photographs and videos he’d seen didn’t do her justice. Light brown hair floated gently around her shoulders. The slight curl at the tips made it appear weightless. The tan skirt and jacket were probably meant to help her look professional, but they failed to disguise the voluptuous curves that defined her hips and ass. Those breasts threatened to burst out of her white button-down blouse. She hadn’t dressed provocatively. She just had one of those bodies that screamed sex, and nothing could disguise that cry.
But more than that, she had a presence that couldn’t be captured with a camera, fragility and strength she somehow managed to exude simultaneously. Malcolm had always found that kind of dichotomy attractive.
He took a moment to call on his extraordinary control. It wouldn’t do to accost her with a raging hard-on tenting his dress pants. His cover didn’t require him to seduce anyone, and sex always made for sticky situations while undercover. Drinks. Just drinks and flirting. No more than that.
She spoke with a convention official, then made her way to the dead-end hallway behind the room. Malcolm wondered if they had decided on a dramatic entrance or if she wanted to avoid walking through the crowd gathered to hear her speak.
He crossed the wide hall. The sound of her voice reached his ears before he rounded the corner.
“You can do this, Darcy. You will do this. You don’t need a good, thorough flogging. You have a perfectly decent speech prepared. You practiced it for a week. You will smile. You will be confident.” The clear speaking voice vanished as she stumbled over that last word. She mumbled a few curses. As he took the three steps that put him in the entrance to the narrow hall, he heard her finish. “Don’t blow this. They’ll never ask you back if you blow this. Oh fuck. I’m going to blow it.”
She glanced up, startled, and pressed the papers in her hand against her chest. They crinkled and bent to conform as best they could over those ample breasts. Her wide eyes took him in, staring long enough to let him know she found him attractive.
She had said “flogging.” This piece of additional evidence filtered through his head and colored his initial theories on her involvement. Her comment opened up a new avenue of investigation. He tried for his best disarming smile. “Nervous? Don’t be. You’ll do just fine.”
Her tongue darted out, moistening her lower lip and teasing him with a promise she couldn’t know she was making. “Thank you. I know. I’m just preparing. If you don’t mind, the entrance is in the main hall.”
He had known her eyes were blue. That information had been in her file. However, he was unprepared for the physical way her pale-eyed gaze slammed into his gut. She met his stare with apparent confidence. Most people would be fooled, but not Malcolm. He had spent too much time training in the nuances of emotion that manifested in people’s faces. Ms. Markovich’s anxiety level was near critical.
In all the transcripts, she had denied ever suffering abuse at Yataines’s hands. Yet her family had all given statements that labeled the man abusive and controlling. Malcolm hadn’t even thought to consider thatMarkovich was a submissive. It made him see the family’s allegations in a new light.
She hadn’t sounded like she believed herself when she said she didn’t need a flogging. Did that mean she needed a flogging to get through the speech, or did she need the certainty of punishment to bolster her courage?
He played his hunch that Yataines had been her Master. It was a gamble, but the odds were good, and if he was right, it could help him gain her trust that much faster.
He took a step forward. Malcolm always exuded a confident demeanor because he was a confident man. He was a natural Dom. People often followed his lead without question.
Markovich lowered her gaze, fastening it on the floor at his feet. Less than eighteen inches separated him from her, which was how he liked to play the game. This submissive needed to know the Dom in her personal space presented the right kind of threat.
“Darcy.” He noted the way her nostrils flared like prey scenting her predator, but she didn’t raise her gaze to challenge him. He wasn’t under the delusion that she had submitted to him. In the absence of a real acquaintance, instinct and training had taken over, that was all. It didn’t mean she recognized him as someone who had authority over her. “Do you mind if I call you Darcy?”
Now her eyes came up, and she looked directly at him. “Look, mister, I don’t mean to be rude, but I need a few quiet moments to gather my thoughts. I will be available for a panel discussion Sunday. If you have an urgent concern that can’t wait, I’ll be happy to talk to you after the presentation. But right now I need to be alone.”
He itched to turn her over his knee and paddle the hell out of her backside. He wondered whether she wore underwear or if he’d have to strip those away in order to caress the flesh of an ass he ached to touch.
Malcolm cleared his throat and chased those thoughts away. She needed help right then, and he could give that to her. Domination wasn’t always sexual, especially given the venue and the fact that they didn’t know one another. She fidgeted and danced like a newborn kitten, scooting away from him.
He grasped her chin between his thumb and forefinger, forcing her to hold still. “Theo Stevenson.” He had chosen Theodore after the great President Roosevelt. “But we can simplify things. You will call me Sir.”
She froze. Her pupils dilated, and she glanced around, no doubt noting he blocked the only escape route. “That title is earned.” She gulped two breaths, and he knew she was fully aware of the audacity of her assertion. It might be true, but a submissive generally used a title of respect with a Dom from the beginning.
“No,” he said. “The title of Master is earned, as is the title of slave. I wouldn’t go so far as to even call you a pet. For now, Darcy will suffice.”
She stared at him, and he realized the limit of her experience. Likely Yataines had been her only Dom. Records indicated they had dated for six years. Since he knew her to be twenty-seven, that meant she had met her Dom at the tender age of twenty-one. If she had experienced other Doms, those encounters had probably been very limited.
“Breathe, Darcy. Take one deep breath right now.” She did as he ordered. Some color returned to her lips, and a bit of panic subsided from her eyes. “Keep your eyes on me and take another breath. In and out.Good girl.”
As he expected, she responded to his authoritative tone and blossomed under his praise. Her eyes brightened, and the little lines around her mouth and eyes disappeared. If she had been his, he would have kissed her. As it was, he had a hard time not following through with his inclination to praise her that way.
“You will go in that room, Darcy, and you will speak from the heart. You know what you want to say, and you’re well prepared for this. You will smile at the audience, and you will charm them with the passion you have for giving to others. Afterward I will find you and I will give you a reward. Do you understand?”
She nodded, her movement severely limited by the grip he had on her chin. She made no attempt to break away, but she also didn’t speak.
“Answer me, Darcy. Use words.”
“Yes, Sir. I understand.” Strong and steady, her voice washed over him, and he knew she would be successful.
“Now go in there. The crowd has quieted, and they’re waiting on you.”
He opened the single door and watched her cross the small distance to stand next to the podium. The coordinator flashed a smile at her as he completed the introduction. Malcolm closed the door. Entering that way would draw attention to himself. This first day, he needed the cloak of anonymity so he could observe his target.
Victor Snyder was a dangerous man, and his instincts told him Darcy had a sweet soul. How in the world had she come to work for him? What service could she possibly provide that would further his nefarious interests? He rejected the idea that Darcy was his submissive. If ever he had seen a sub without a Master, Darcy Markovich fit the bill.
He slipped in through the farthest door in the main room and took an empty seat at a table in the back of the room. Now that he had established contact with Darcy, he needed some time to watch her too. He would steer her toward the bistro in the hotel and follow through with his original plan to ply her with drinks.
© Michelle Zurlo, April 2012
All Rights Reserved