from Martial Hearts, Chapter One...
copyright 2014, 2016 by Mia Michele
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“Nature knows no indecencies; man invents them.”
-Mark Twain
Chapter 1
“So it’s really over, then?”
Damon nodded his head as he took the drink from the bartender. “Sarah touched down in British Columbia this morning.” He looked out over the pulsing night life of The Club. “So, back to the market again, I suppose.”

“Lots to choose from, my friend.” The younger man nodded to a group of women who had just come in. “And your reputation lends you to be quite the catch.”

Damon laughed and took his drink as he stood. “Thanks, Marco.” His eyes skimmed the room before he settled on the group Marco had referenced. Of the eight women, he recognized one – Jane. She was a regular with her boyfriend, John, and sat on the Tribunal council with him. The other seven, although wearing the telltale pink scarves of submissives, looked nervous and unsure. Well, six of them did. One of them looked completely disinterested and almost annoyed as Jane tied the scarf around her neck and gave her what appeared to be a pep talk. He settled against one of the room’s columns and watched the redhead with interest.

* * * * *

“Why am I here again?” Mina pushed her bangs from her slate eyes and looked around the brightly lit club where the scantily dressed mingled with those in designer dresses and suits. She felt out of place in her jeans and trim blouse as the eyes of men and women passed over her. This was a mistake.  Looking back at Jane, she shook her head.  I should not be here tonight. Wait . . . change that . . . I shouldn’t be here ever.

“Come on, Mina!” Jane tied a pink scarf around her best friend’s neck so that she mirrored the other women in the small group. “It’s my bachelorette party; let’s have fun! Besides,” she said under her breath, “it’s only one night.” She grabbed Mina’s hand and pulled her into the group. “Okay, ladies. The only rule is simple: no one leaves The Club. As long as you are here, there are rules of engagement, but if you leave with anyone, then the rules of The Club no longer exist. We’ll meet back in this spot at 9 o’clock sharp to get a late dinner down the block.  Now,” she shooed them with a smile, “have fun!”

Some of the women were giddy as they dispersed into the crowd while a few walked toward the bar, whispering amongst themselves. Mina made no attempt to move. “Mina,” Jane sighed. “It’s one night. You don’t have to actually do anything. You can just watch.”

You’ve got to be kidding me. I’m not watching shit. “I’m still amazed that John is okay with you being here without him.” Mina fidgeted with the scarf, trying to take it off, but Jane took her hands and retied the loose knot.

“He’s well known here; so am I. No one will even try to break the rules.” She tossed her short blonde hair back from her face. “It’s a fun night of freedom before tying the knot—this time in the figurative sense!” She laughed and turned serious again. “I know you don’t like it here.  I know you’re uncomfortable and I am so, so grateful that you arranged the bachelorette here anyway. Try to lighten up. Try to have a good time. Please,” she squeezed Mina’s hand, “for me.”

What in the hell am I doing? “For you, Jane.” Mina forced a smile. “But you owe me. And not only for having your bachelorette on a freaking Thursday night when I’m on call. Like godmother-to-your-firstborn owe me.” Jane hugged her and walked away, leaving Mina watching her friend mix with the other Doms and subs. She shook her head and blew out a breath. This is going to suck. Like really, really suck.

Mina tried to avoid making eye contact as she walked towards the bar. Locking eyes with someone is initiating contact, Jane had told the women in the limo on the way from drinks.  It’s an unspoken invitation to connect.  You can always say no, but eye contact gives a Dom permission to approach you. Yet, as she stared at the floor, Mina found herself feeling almost vulnerable. And I’m anything but that, she thought as she slipped up to a free spot. “Get you something?” The bartender winked at her and she tried to smile.

Her throat was dry and she desperately wanted to down an entire case of wine but thought better of her order.  She was on call, after all. “A bottle of water, please.” Besides, the last thing I need to add into this evening is alcohol. As though he’d heard every request a million times before and could work the bar on autopilot, he handed her the water and took the two dollars she passed him as she moved to the side and let a woman in a leather dress fill her place.

“Hey.”

I’m pretty sure I did NOT make eye contact with you.  Mina looked up at the sound of a man’s voice. Shit. What do I say to let this guy know I’m not really into this and have no desire to play submissive to his whipping or whatever it is he’s into? He looked as though he belonged to some sort of motorcycle gang with his heavily tattooed arms and sleeveless T-shirt. Chaps covered what Mina immediately thought of as his uni-thigh and that was it, save his boots. You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. “I’m not interested.” That’s clear cut enough.

He smiled and she was slightly distressed by the glimmer in his eyes. “So, you’re one of those subs, huh? Like to play hard to get? I like that in a woman.”

You really don’t get it. “Seriously? Not interested.” She turned and walked away.  I’m getting out of here. This is not my scene. I love Janie, but this is too much. As she walked in front of him towards a hallway that she thought might lead to another exit, he grabbed her arm. She narrowed her eyes. “Get. Your. Hand. Off. My. Arm.” Each word was punctuated with a growing rage.

“Oh, babe. You and I? We’re going to make some sparks fly.” He stank of cheap beer and when the lights began to strobe, they lit up the few days old stubble on his chin.

Mina pulled her arm away and stumbled into the deserted hallway, dropping her bottle of water. The man followed and chuckled. “Normally, I’d suggest we find a more private space for this sort of thing, but this works for me just fine.”

“Take another step towards me,” Mina said, her voice teeming with anger, “and I promise that you’ll regret it. This is your last chance to back away with your dignity—whatever is left of it after that outfit choice—in place.”

The man’s face dropped and he began to walk forward, a strange mix of anger and desire on his face. “I wouldn’t if I were you.” He stopped and looked over his shoulder to the direction of the voice.

“Hey man, this bitch is taken.”

The man who had spoken stepped into the light and Mina saw him clearly. Dressed in a tailored, pinstriped suit, he snapped his fingers and instantly two bouncers appeared. “We don’t refer to the women who come here as bitches and we don’t allow the engagement of submissives without their consent which, clearly, you don’t have.” He looked up at Mina and their eyes met. Her eyes widened before she looked away. “Am I correct in that?”

Who are you? “I don’t know who this guy is, and no, he doesn’t have my consent for anything.” Mina picked up her water bottle from the floor where it had fallen from her fingers as she’d taken a defensive stance. Are my hands shaking? I could have taken this guy down in my sleep.

“Hey man!” The biker began struggling against the two men who held him by each arm. “What the hell is this? I’m just in for a good time!”

“Rules are rules.” The mysterious man turned to the hostess who had greeted Mina and her friends when they’d arrived and had seemingly materialized from thin air in the moment. “Flag his I.D. as inappropriate, Tiffany, and see that he’s banned for at least a month.”

“Of course, Damon.” She made a note on a tablet computer and followed the men as they led the biker towards the door.

* * * * *

Normally, Damon made it a habit to not interfere, but something about the scenario had been off. He hadn’t recognized the Dominant, and although he personally found it revolting, the man’s attire would have been considered acceptable in most circles. However it was clear, even from a distance, that the woman, labeled as a sub or not, wasn’t interested in his advances, and when she walked away, the man had grabbed her arm. Dropping his empty tumbler at the bar and waving off Marco’s invitation for a refill, he had followed the duo into the hallway leading to the back stage entrance.  The woman’s face was full of anger and then the Dominant’s voice filtered to Damon’s ears and he made the decision to interject.  Standing face to face with the possible submissive, he was glad that he had. “My apologies,” Damon stepped forward but stopped when he saw the young woman tense.

 “No apology necessary.” She had looked up at him but again lowered her eyes to match her voice and started to walk by him. “Although I’d appreciate it if you could show me the fastest way to get the hell out of here.”

I’d really rather you stay.  Something about her was tugging at him.  He was a Dominant, but even he wasn’t normally the type to go for a damsel in distress.  There was something else about this woman, some cross between submissive and anything but.  Instead of touching her, Damon moved his body to block her. “Please don’t take someone like that as a painting of what all the people here are like. Most of us are perfectly normal.”

She raised her eyes to him and anger replaced the uneasiness he’d seen in them before. “Right. Because what you people do here is completely normal. Look,” she raised her hands, “no offense. But this isn’t my scene. I’m here for a bachelorette party, and all things equal, if she wasn’t my best friend, I would have declined from the start. This entire thing makes me sick.”

“This isn’t my scene.” Well, that’s a damn shame. Damon rocked back on his heels. “Is that a fact?” While she was clearly angry—in his opinion, she had every right to be after the slime bucket approached her and refused to take no for an answer—he couldn’t help but find a certain amusement to her fiery nature. I wonder if I can change her mind.

* * * * *

Stop being a bitch. Your best friend is part of the lifestyle and this guy’s right: most people in it are perfectly normal. “I’m sorry.” She shook her head and touched her temples. “I’ve had a rough day and I’m on call tonight, so my fuse is shorter than normal.” Mina tried to smile and looked up but the gaze of his honey eyes was enough to undo her and she quickly looked away. I’ve got to get laid more often if a knight in shining armor is all it takes to get me riled up. “I recognize that most people in the lifestyle are fine and that the jerks like that guy are the exception. I just . . . I wasn’t really into coming here tonight in the first place; now, I really don’t want to be here.”

“Care to get a drink elsewhere?” He reached his arm out, but Mina pulled away before he could touch her, her eyes opening widely. “There are several bars within walking distance.”

If you leave with anyone, the rules of The Club no longer exist. “I don’t think so.” She was contemplating moving around him when Jane appeared behind Damon.

“Mina! I looked around and you were gone! I thought you’d left.” The woman looked from Mina back to the man and then back to Mina with a raised eyebrow. “Oh, Damon,” she said, addressing him in a hushed tone. “I apologize. I didn’t mean to intrude.”

“You didn’t,” Mina said quickly. Who are you, Damon, and why does the world seem to revolve around you? “I was just . . .” Her voice was stopped by a ringing cell phone which she pulled from her pocket. “Excuse me.” Turning her back, she answered.  “Mina Cavanaugh.”

“Mina, it’s Betty over at St. Gabe’s ER. You’re our on-call for tonight.”

“I’ll be right there. Ten minutes.” She hung up and turned. “I’m sorry, Janie. I have to go.”

“Mina, no,” Jane pouted.

“I’m on call tonight and the hospital needs me.” She hugged her friend and, when she pulled away, found herself closer to Damon than she wanted to be. What do I say? “Thanks for your help.” She moved quickly past him and prayed their bodies wouldn’t graze.

“Anytime.” He made no attempt to touch her, but called out over his shoulder. “I hope to see you around sometime.”

Not in this lifetime, she thought as she passed through the exit.

* * * * *

Damon watched Mina move with speed out the door and before Jane could walk away, touched her arm. The woman immediately assumed a stationary position and dropped her eyes. “Who is she, Jane?”

“Mina Cavanaugh.”

“She’s a nurse?”

“Mina?” She looked up before quickly averting her eyes. “No, she owns a studio downtown.” It was clear that she was pondering the question. “Oh, the call? She’s a crisis counselor for local hospitals . . . for rape victims.”

No wonder she was so put off by that jackass. “Does she come here often?”

“No. Only with me. And only when I bribe and beg her.” As though she sensed his disappointment, she added quickly, “But I can give you her contact info.”