“Flicka, this isn’t the place for us.”
She’s right, as my big sister so often is. We shouldn’t be here. A back alley in the seedy part of the city, trying a find the entrance to an exclusive, and by all accounts iffy, club is not somewhere the wholesome queens of bubble-gum pop ought to be. This, of course, is precisely the reason we are here, because here is where I’ll find him: Dare Wilde, quintessential English bad boy, and the man who is going to provide me with a one-way ticket into adulthood.
“I should never have allowed you to talk me into this. It’s all kinds of stupid.”
Wanting to be free to live as I choose and not have my life managed down to the colour of my underwear is not a stupid desire. At the ripe age of nineteen, it’s a healthy one.
Although, I suppose Flo is referring to my planned means of achieving this end, rather than the desire itself, which I know she damned well shares. We’re both heartily sick of being micro-managed. The difference is that I’m prepared to put plan D for Dare into action in order to do something about it, whereas Flo still believes plan A for Attorney is going to magically release us.
“We ought to have kept Kurt with us.” She turns her head and peers into the insalubrious gloom surrounding us, her gait slowing almost to a halt.
“Kurt wouldn’t have let us within five hundred metres of this place. Also, our minder answers to our manager, in case you forgot. He’d have reported everything back.” This piece of corporate espionage requires stealth and secrecy if it’s going to work, because if Mr. West gets wind of my plan, he’s going to squash it and me with a metric ton of shitty legalese.
“Flick, are you sure this is where the club is?”
“Certain.” I flash her a grin as I point out a brass plaque on the wall beside a small, green door with peeling paint that looks as if it hasn’t been loved in half a century.
“I kind of thought it would be less shady.”
“It’s an underground, private members club.” I’m rather relieved it’s not draped in neon, and that all we’re facing is an unassuming, dirt-streaked door. If there’d been a queue or, god help us, bouncers working the entrance, then the social media results would have pressed the big old mission abort button before we’d even got near Dare Wilde. The rumour is that he owns this place.
“How do we get in? Do we knock? Do we have to become members?”
“There’s a bell.”
I press the button long and hard to ensure we get attention. There’s nothing more infuriating than a prolonged buzz in your ear. I know because I once got an insect stuck in mine. As to the question about membership, I’m really hoping we can negotiate a way around that. It’s not like I plan to come back. This is a strictly one time only visit.
I don’t know what I expect, when the door opens –a hulking brute maybe who demands ID, or some obsequious three-piece-suit-wearing lackey. Instead, the door slams back against the brickwork and a leggy blonde in “fuck me dirty” heels shoves her way between us, then totters away over the cobblestones and into the night. My twin and I exchange nonplussed glances. Then I take a step forward, while Flo remains stock still. Another blond appears. This one’s male and still shoving his arms into the sleeves of his jacket.
He pushes past and follows the girl. Well, for two paces at any rate. Then he swings around and stares at us. “What are you out here for?”
That’s the sort of question I never answer. It’d be pointless to state the obvious, and it’s not as if there are alternatives. There’s no bus stop around, so it’s not as if we’re likely to be waiting for one.
As the doors open, and there’s nothing to stop us entering its gaping maw, I do just that.
“Hey,” he catches a hold of my arm. “Are you members?”
“Do we need to be?” Flo asks.
“Motive for entering, and whether there’s a member willing to vouch for you.”
“Are you willing to vouch for us?” I flash him a red-lipped smile, then flick my gaze downwards, then back up.
He laughs, and his smile crinkles the skin around his eyes, warming them. There’s something very familiar about him. Something I can’t quite place, but that in itself isn’t such a surprise considering where we are. He’s someone. Pretty much everyone who comes here is somebody. This is the Ungentlemanly Refuge after all.
The guy positions himself between me and Flo, and flings his arms around our shoulders.
“Are you ladies seeking something in particular?”
“More like someone.”
“Dare Wilde,” Flo blurts, even though she pinkie promised she’d hold her tongue. I instantly want to throttle her. Seriously, I love my sister, but as my stomach flops down towards my toes, I’m ready to shove her into the darkness of the doorway before us and listen to her scream as she plummets to her doom. “Is he here?”
“Only one way to find out.”
Isn’t that just the truth of everything? Either you take that bold step forward into the limelight, or you scuttle back into the shadows and never get your moment to shine.
Our new friend gives us a friendly push towards the black hole. The gravitational pull of which instantly sucks us deeper once the threshold is crossed. My ears strain, compensating for the temporary lack of vision. There’s a low, thumping heartbeat coming from below. I can feel the vibrations of it through the soles of my shoes.
“Watch your footing.”
The stairs are worn and steep. I’d hate to traverse them in stilettos. I’m wearing trusty boots. The only lighting is in the form of red cables that edge each step. I’m right in the bowels of the place, eighty steps down. I counted them, wading through a land comprised of ancient brickwork, well-worn leather, heat, and red-lighting before I realise that Flo is no longer with me.
Shit! A hundred things that could have happened to her form an instant montage in my brain. I’m all ready to about turn and backtrack through this pit of depravity when my phone starts to vibrate.
Flo: Bailing. Sorry. Hope you find him. Won’t spill, but not getting mixed up in this. Not my circus. Will keep Kurt busy.
It is her circus; she’s just engaging different monkeys. As for the reassurance, I know Flo is no snitch. She’s been my secret keeper from birth, just as I’ve been hers.
Okay, it looks as if I’m going it alone. I about turn, heart fluttering like it does the first day on a new set. I can do this, even without my shadow. Matter of fact, maybe it’s better that she isn’t here.
My eyes are finally adjusting to the light. Around me, the long, low-ceilinged brick cellar is comprised of secluded booths, divided by wrought iron grills. There’s a small central dance floor packed with gyrating, semi-naked bodies, and a bar off to one side that’s nestled between a pair of caged dancers and a tankful of octopi. Weird choice, but the same goes for most of the décor, which is a mismatch of occult artefacts and the brutally mundane. I mean, who looks at a cutlery drawer, and thinks, that’ll make a fantastic piece of art if I photograph it, enlarge it by a few thousand per cent, and then draw eyes and moustaches on the topmost pieces of silverware?
“Feel free to add to it,” the barman offers me a marker when I approach.
“No, I’m good.” I raise my hands. “Is Dare Wilde here?”
“Right there.” He nods towards the cutlery picture again, causing me to take a second look. This time, I can see that the leftmost graffitied fork is riding Wilde’s signature.
“I meant is he physically present?”
“You drinking?” the barman asks, forcing me to sweep the rows of bottles behind him in contemplation. I don’t really want a drink, just to do what I’m here to do and be gone. The longer I stay here, the higher the likelihood everything will get messed up, but I suspect the only way I’m going to get an answer out of the barman is if I agree to pour nectar down my throat.
“She’ll take a bottle of Talisker.” A guy behind me says.
It’s on the tip of my tongue to make a remark about having a mouth and being plenty able to use it, but the guy turns out to be the same one who escorted me in here. When the bartender slides the whisky across the counter, my blond friend passes it straight to me.
“If you want to want to snag his attention, you’d better come bearing gifts.”
I swipe my credit card, and pay the extortionate price for the bottle of fermented malt.
“Who are you?” I ask. He’s a handsome brute now that there’s light enough due to the glow from the behind counter fridges to get a decent look at him. I wish I could place him. Shaggy blond hair, eyes like twin gas-lights, and biceps that are thicker than my thighs. It’s his laugh that really stirs memories though. It’s an intoxicatingly warm sound that rumbles up from deep in his chest.
“Honey, if you don’t know, then maybe I’d better take that bottle of smoky goodness off you.”
I squint. I should know him. I know I should know him, but who the hell is he?
Dammit, the longer I stand there, cogs inside my head whirring but still failing to spit out a name, the wider his crazy-ass smile gets. In the end, he takes pity.
“Lorne Everett.” He offers me his hand and kisses the back of my knuckles when I accept.
Lorne… Lorne Everett. Oh, for heaven’s sake, I really am subpar tonight. He’s only Dare Wilde’s BFF. They’ve been man-pals since before their breakout roles in the coming of age masterpiece, Sunsetters. Well, Wilde’s breakout role. I’m honestly not sure what Lorne’s done since. No matter, the point is I’ve failed a basic observation test. I really need to brush up on my industry knowledge. On the positive side, with Lorne as my guide to Mr. Wilde, the odds of achieving this mission goal just got a lot more promising.
“It’s the clothes. I know. It throws everyone for a loop when they stumble across me wearing any,” he says.
I suppose when your breakout role involves you stumbling about for the whole film in a pair of budgie smugglers and a hand towel, that’s a genuine outcome.
“Flicka,” I reply.
A light dances in the depths of his pupils as he absorbs the introduction. “Flicka?” He rolls the name on his tongue as if by doing so he can get the lay of me. “Not Felicity?” He recognises me. I suppose it was too much to ask to suppose he wouldn’t, especially given I arrived with my duplicate.
I shake my head, as he holds my gaze in challenge. Not here. Not ever if I can help it. Felicity is bright and jovial and full of wholesome fun. Flicka is someone else entirely. She’s more like a grenade on which the pin’s already been popped. I’ve been holding back the urge to explode for a long time now.
“What do you want with Dare?”
“A piece of him.”
“Is he here?”
God, that grin. It’s infuriating.
“I don’t know how available he is to talk right now.”
But he’s here. That’s the important point. “What makes you think I want to speak to him?”
Lorne gives me a head to toe once over. “You’re way overdressed for someone looking for a fuck.”
I guess maybe that’s true, though I’m hardly here in a nice floral dress and a cardigan. I am, however, wearing skin-tight pants. It’s just a hunch, but I’m betting super short skirts and a lack of panties is the norm around here for those looking to bang Mr. Wilde.
“So, what is it you need to say?”
Seems Lorne is Wilde’s one-man vetting squad.
“That’s between him and me.”
He gives me a curiously penetrating stare, and for heart-thumping moment, I swear he can read my entire plan as if it’s written in the Queen’s English right on my face.
“You realise, I suppose, that he’s never going to play by your rules.”
“Surely that depends what the rules are?”
“Sweetheart, I don’t know what your game is, but you’re about to get yourself fucked. This isn’t Sweetsville you’re standing in, and he isn’t just Wilde by name…”
“Yeah, I’ve heard all the slogans: ‘Wilde by name, wild by nature’, ‘Dare you walk on the Wilde side?’ etcetera, etcetera…” They’re just words. Credit me with some clue about marketing. Dare Wilde isn’t just a man, he’s a brand, which is exactly why I’m here, and not out on an illicit date with any one of a thousand other rock gods or movie stars. “If you could just show me to the man-beast’s lair.”
He shakes his head, but there’s a smirk on his lips and an amused twinkle in his eyes. Maybe he’s just thinking he’s going to enjoy watching me get torn apart. Either way, he steers me in the direction I want to go.
I expect to find Dare Wilde festooned in half-naked women, maybe with his cock out, or else busy snorting coke off someone’s naked arse, so it’s a shock when Lorne leads me to a secluded cubbyhole right at the back of this dive to find Mr. Wilde sprawled against the comfort of a cracked leather sofa, chin tilted towards the ceiling, seemingly asleep.
At least, I assume he’s asleep and not high on something.
The two men sitting either side of him up and leave as soon as Lorne ushers me into view. “Later, Dare.”
“Yeah, later,” the second man echoes.
I don’t know if they’re friends, associates, or security. Either way, they dissolve into the shadows. There are an abundance of deep shadows in this club. I guess that makes sense; its official title is the Shadow Garden, even if everyone refers to it as the Ungentlemanly Refuge.
Mr. Wilde doesn’t acknowledge their departure. Not verbally, and definitely not physically.
“Looks as if you’ll have to kiss sleeping beauty if you want to wake him, princess,” Lorne says, giving me a nudge towards Dare.
I stumble forward a pace, but pause still a good two feet from his knees, as reality slaps me across both cheeks. I’m here. I’m exactly where my feet were supposed to take me this evening. All I need to do now is win his support, except my voice has disappeared.
Fuck, he’s good looking.
I mean, I’ve seen the publicity shots, the talk show interviews, the box-office smashes, but none of them prepared me for the reality of Dare Wilde in the flesh. The man is… Well, let’s be honest, I’m not sure he’s real. At least I wasn’t until this moment. I know what sort of magic Hollywood can weave. I know all about Photoshop, make-up, and airbrushing. Dare Wilde in the flesh comes without the benefit of any of those tricks, and heaven help me, he’s all the more gorgeous for it.
I keep looking at him, seeking out the flaws that I know, surely to God, must exist. But if they do, I’m blind to them as I assess him from top to toe. He’s wearing tailored trousers and Chelsea boots. A silk shirt flows across the contours of his upper body, the neck of which is open to the third button, revealing a glimpse of inked muscle and smattering of dark hair.
“Are you just going to eyeball him for the next hour, or are you actually going to take a bite?”
I shoot Lorne my best sorority girl stare—the one I learned from my American competitors—which does not, as I’d hoped, shoot him down, merely causes him to collapse onto the leather sofa beside Wilde cackling like I made a wisecrack.
Bastard probably thinks I am a joke. I know there are plenty who look down on Flo and I, who think that because we’re polished and pretty that there’s no effort involved, and no talent either.
“What’s it going to be, princess? Are you going to wrap your pretty lips around that bottle you’re holding and drink until you’re full of fire, then plonk yourself on his knee and give him some serious mouth to mouth, or are you just planning on gawping at him until sun-up?”
I’ve too many places to be to hang around for that long. Nor do I want to raise suspicions by missing the midnight curfew. That gives me under an hour to finish up here and get my sweet cheeks back to where they’re supposed to be, or Operation Bad Girl is going to be the biggest flop of my career.
I don’t care for whisky, especially something this smoky. Regardless, I down three large gulps of the amber liquid straight from the bottle.
“Whoa, baby,” Lorne growls, fanning his cheeks. I suspect he’s the sort of friend that gets you into trouble.
For a moment, I prickle all over at the thought of what I’m about to do—something utterly taboo. Understand that Felicity Caine has until this moment only ever kissed carefully sanctioned and studio-approved man-boys. Wilde is something new, decadent, and totally delicious. And even my manager strutting his scrawny arse through the door of this place isn’t going to stop me indulging this micro-fantasy.
I land my pert arse right on Dare Wilde’s lap and breathe whisky fumes right into his beautiful mouth. Hell, yeah… The man tastes of victory and sin. I allow myself to get high on him for a moment, and indulge the fantasy that sharing something with him could be more just a business deal. But forging a genuine connection isn’t my aim.
“Wake up, bad boy. I need you to take me places…”
Having never snogged a comatose man before, I half expect him to awaken with a start and throw me off his lap. Perhaps with a cry of, “What the fuck!” added in for good measure. It’s what I’d do if someone that I didn’t know was taking liberties with my lips while I was comatose. I mean, it’s not as if he agreed to share the taste of my berry-flavoured lip gloss.
Dare Wilde defies convention… I’ve read it enough times it ought to have sunk in. One second he’s in stasis, the next, hello angel! His tongue flicks against mine, and I nearly catapult off his lap in surprise.
I don’t actually move more than an inch.
When did he move and clamp his hands around my waist?
When did we forge such a strong magnetic bond that I can’t pull myself way from him?
His fingertips creep inside my clothing, bringing heat to each area of skin he touches.
Did I mention I’ve been crushing on this guy since I was eleven? I have a whole decade’s worth of fantasies to work through and about ten minutes left in which to indulge them. Less actually. It’s probably more like ten seconds if I’m going to make it home before curfew.
Yes, I’m nineteen and I still have a curfew. If you rose at five thirty every morning and put in two hours of stretch and dance routines before breakfast, you’d understand why I hit the sack at a reasonable time.
Hitting the sack with this man, now there’s an appealing plan. Not to mention a heck of a reason to stay up late.
Hmm, he also has rock solid abs? I can feel them through his shirt—powerful slabs of muscle that make my fingers curl. Shit, I’m horny, but an actual thing between us isn’t part of the plan. I just need him to hang out for a while, be seen with me places. Getting personal… involved is nowhere on the agenda. This… whatever it is we’re sharing at the moment is already far more intimate than we’re ever supposed to get. Still, the way his tongue tickles mine is one heck of a reason to linger.
It’s only when those touches set off reciprocal sensations of delight between my thighs, and I start squirming against him like a cat in heat, that it occurs to me that backing off might be a surprisingly wise plan.
Dare holds on, obviously not so keen to let me go.
“I need to talk to you,” I say as a way of explaining my attempt to introduce some distance between us.
“Talk.” He cocks one eyebrow, wrinkling the skin above, and I get a first proper look at his eyes. They’re melt-into, dark brown pools of wickedness and deceit. “You know, normally when people want to talk to me they open their mouths and words come out. They don’t breathe cherry-flavoured fire into my throat.”
“He said this was the best way to rouse you.” I shoot Lorne a death stare. It was his suggestion.
He blows me a kiss in return.
“Was it him that suggested you grind your arse against my cock too?”
Um, what! I wasn’t. “He’s your friend. I assumed he knew best.”
Lorne earns himself death stare number two, and a prime position on my “Do not trust,” list. I’ve a sneaking suspicion that he’s a dirty fucker who gets off on watching ladies dry hump his friend.
“What?” He raises his hands. “It worked, didn’t it? He’s roused and communicating.”
It’s hard to deny the veracity of that when Wilde is sporting a pole in his pants. Not that I’m checking it out or anything. I can just sense it. Heat streaks across my cheeks as I lift my gaze back to meet his.
“I think you should know that while I’m a total sucker for some sleeping beauty action—I pay people to wank me when I’m not quite asleep—I don’t generally engage them in conversation afterwards.”
My head can’t decide which of these statements to be appalled over first. The fact that he has people masturbate him, that he pays them to do it, or that he doesn’t speak to them once they’ve choked his chicken.
My outrage must show, because Lorne starts cackling again. Even Wilde cracks a half smile. Fuck, he’s delicious, especially the way one edge of his smile crooks up his lips at the corner. There’s a white scar there, I realise. It makes him appear happy even when he’s completely at ease.
“Okay, so I don’t actually pay for it. I can normally find a willing volunteer.”
I’ll bet he can. I can actually imagine him stretched out naked, apart from a towel, and my hands wrapped around his shaft. Not that it’s going to happen.
I slide off his knee and onto the sofa.
“What do you want to talk to me about, Felicity Caine?”
“Flicka,” I insist, just as I did when I introduced myself to Lorne. Dare Wilde doesn’t question the nickname. He leans forward and sloshes liquid from the whisky bottle into a glass.
“I wondered if you might help me with something.”
“Did Jason send you?” He pauses in the act of bring the shot to his sensual lips.
“Jason?” I’m not sure I even know a Jason.
“Jason… Jace…J.J. Jones. He didn’t send you?”
J.J. Jones the hotshot director? “No one sent me.”
“This isn’t about the film?”
I shake my head, and add a firm, “No,” for emphasis.
“Go on,” he insists, while he sits back and indulges in his tipple.
“I’d rather discuss it in private.”
“Lorne knows everything there is to know about me. I’m good with him hearing whatever you have to say.”
“But I’m not.”
The fewer people involved in this story the better. The only reason I made Flo privy to the plan was that she’d ask too many damned questions otherwise. Also, when the inevitable shit storm occurs, it’ll find its way to her door. I know we’re twins, and we act together, but we don’t actually have a psychic link, and we are capable of independently functioning.
Flo really is wholesome. It’s just me who’s the fake.
Lorne shows no sign of vacating his seat. In fact, he grabs the Talisker and sloshes some into an empty tumbler on the table.
“Scoot for twenty, mate.”
“Twenty,” Lorne curses in outrage. “You’ll be done in like five.” He rolls his eyes, but nevertheless rises from the comfort of the cracked leather. He tops up his glass to the brim before heading into the darkness of the club. It’s curious that in this little secluded corner, it’s easy to forget there are other people around us, existing inside other bubble booths.
Copyright 2016. Clara Leigh. All Rights Reserved.