Masters of the Castle, Book 3: Saving Sara went live today! Woo hoo! In spite of the web-wide book purge going on in the field of erotica, it is now available for sale for $4.99 on Amazon and Blushing Books. Apparently, Barnes and Nobles is still uploading. The first sample chapter is below! 🙂
Sara Abrams had a hard time getting off the bus. For almost fifteen minutes, it idled in front of the Castle, a massive gray structure of old Scottish stones and fifteenth-century architecture, awesome and yet so out of place in this freshly-cut Ohio wheat field. All the other passengers had long since disembarked. Beside her, her boyfriend Robert sat shaking his head and trying hard not to fume.
“Do you want to go back to town?” he finally asked.
Yes, but she didn’t say that. “No, of course not. We’re here, aren’t we?”
She made herself move, bending under the seat to drag out her carry-on and then stood up. After so long on the bus, her hip was a little stiff. It took a few steps before she could walk without limping. By the time she reached the head of the bus, she had limbered up enough to tackle the stairs. Robert still went down first and reached back, offering up his hand for support. Though she stepped out into bright sunlight, she felt no warmth on her shoulders or back.
“You okay?” Robert asked, in pretty much the same tone he’d used every other time he’d asked: slightly sympathetic, mostly just impatient.
Nodding, Sara self-consciously pulled her long blonde hair forward to hide the burn scars on the left side of her neck. She didn’t want to drag the vacation down. They’d both paid a lot of money to be here and she had agreed to come. Hell, she’d been the one to suggest it, not just the vacation together, but the Castle in particular. Even more, this was supposed to be the fun-filled trip that reconnected them both as Top and Bottom and, more importantly, as a couple. It wasn’t her intent to do anything to jeopardize that, and yet in the very back of her mind, she couldn’t shake the feeling that coming here might have been a mistake. Across the parking lot, the gaping entrance in the admission gate looked like a hungry mouth crowned by jagged iron teeth. She managed a small smile for Robert’s benefit, but she didn’t want to walk through it.
Her smile couldn’t have been convincing, but Robert believed it because he wanted to be here that badly. Adding her bag to the rest of their luggage being unloaded from the outer compartments, he hauled it to the line of porters waiting to schlepp everything inside to their assigned rooms. There was something to be said for resorts that did all the worst parts of vacationing for you.
“Let’s go have some fun.” Taking her hand, Robert laced their fingers—one of the things she liked best about him; when he held her hand like this, it always made her feel so…connected—and then pulled her into step behind all the other people tromping across the drawbridge. The Castle even had a moat, inhabited by colorful koi and a smattering of water lilies. The koi must have been accustomed to visitors feeding them, because they followed her shadow close to the water’s surface all the way across the bridge.
Passing through the portcullis and into the enclosed inner courtyard, it was hard not to be struck by just how massive this place was. The size of a city block at least, the outer walls encircled not only the Castle but half a dozen outbuildings: a stable, horses, hay cart, blacksmithy and on the far right, a hedge maze garden that stretched around the side as far as she could see. Two white stone statues stood sentry where the grass met the courtyard cobblestones: a master on one side, a mistress on the other.
Sara followed Robert’s lead, staring at both, feeling a small tickle of new-budding anticipation reluctantly unfurling in the pit of her stomach and spreading outward until that old familiar prickle began to travel across her bottom and the backs of her thighs. The alabaster eyes of that unblinking master seemed to stay with her all the way to the registration tables. He had such a presence about him. She liked that. It kept drawing her eye.
Three tables in all were set up along the wall just inside the gate. Each table had two attendants and each attendant managed one line of guests with swift efficiency. By the time they’d joined the others, Sara and Robert were dead last to be registered, but they couldn’t have waited more than five minutes before they were standing directly before the cheerful and scantily-costumed maid who would attend them. She took their medical records and signed accountability waivers, adding each to a manila file.
“Welcome to the Castle,” she said, handing them pens and copies of their online application for final approval and signature. “Your bracelets are inside your welcome packets, along with your maps and room assignments. Orientation starts in about five minutes, so please take a minute to look over your applications and sign each section to show you still agree with and approve of what you’ve written. Even though you brought your own partner,” she beamed at them, “regulations are still regulations.”
“You bet,” Robert smiled and Sara pretended not to notice how his eyes went straight to the abundant cleavage that the spritely maid’s outfit openly displayed.
They took their seats in the middle row of the half-moon circle of chairs arranged before a simple announcement dais. Opening her sealed packet, Sara tipped out the contents, looking at the purple bracelet first. Robert had two, both a purple and a white. Their room assignment was written on the upper right corner of each of their applications. Thankfully, the room numbers matched.
So far, so good.
“They don’t leave anything to chance, do they?” she noted, clicking the tip of her pen into readiness and bending her attention to initial each line of her previously-completed questionnaire.
“I imagine they have to be if they want to avoid being sued.” Robert was already halfway finished with his first page.
It wasn’t a contest, but she hurried to catch up with him anyway, skimming each of her answers. There wasn’t a single question on this application that she hadn’t answered with complete honesty, and in the two months between then and now, not one of her answers had changed. Yes, she was still female, still straight, still submissive. Yes, she still had interests in…good lord, had she really checked off that many fetishes? Sara went down the list: anal, biting, blindfolds, bondage, breast/nipple torture, clamps, etc…Wait a minute. Why was cupping on here?
Sara sat staring at that and, further down the list, found fire play as well. Cold like a fist gripped her insides. She didn’t turn to look, but from the corner of her eye, she thought she saw Robert checking her progress in between initially his own answers. She waited until he glanced over at her page before quietly and deliberately crossing both those things out.
He didn’t say a word.
Neither did she. Everything else on her list she agreed with. At the bottom, where it was indicated, she signed her name and then slipped the application back into its anonymous envelope. The front door of the Castle opened soon after and a dark-haired woman emerged to make her way to the dais. Sara knew her at once from the brochure: Mrs. Hardwick, regal in appearance and manner, dressed like an old-fashioned housekeeper, and quite possibly the tallest woman Sara had personally ever seen in her life. She greeted them all with a slight smile and a ready spiel of the Castle rules. Anonymity, to be adhered to at all times, so use your assigned names. Consent, also to be adhered to; no means no, and pay attention to the safewords. Bracelets to be worn at all times, even in the seclusion of assigned apartments. Sara listened, but apart from the bracelets, there weren’t many differences from the play-party guidelines that ruled the dungeons she used to be a member of back when she lived in California. What differences there were, were all common sense ones. Sara relaxed a little, and before she realized it was going to happen, the tall woman on the dais was calling the dominants from the group.
A cold sweat popped out across Sara’s back when Robert laid his hand on hers and gave her fingers a squeeze.
“You’ll be all right,” he said.
It wasn’t a question; she nodded anyway, but he had already let her go and was standing up to leave. If she had said no, a tiny voice in the very back of her mind whispered, would he have left her there and gone inside with the other dominants anyway?
Stop thinking like that, she scolded herself. She wanted to be here. She needed to be here. This was going to be good for them.
“I’ll see you soon.” Robert flashed her that boyishly charming smile of his, and then he was gone, squeezing out of the row past those still seated and heading toward the group of white-bracelet wearing dominants and the stiff and proper Victorian-style ‘butler’ waiting to lead them away.
Sara clasped her hands in her lap, squeezing tight as she watched him go.
He’s not a crutch. Stop leaning on him.
But stark feelings of abandonment swept her anyway, and she couldn’t stop herself from trembling.
She wanted to be here. She had nothing to be afraid—
Two fingers tapped her left shoulder, coming in on her scarred side and startling her so badly that she nearly jumped up out of her seat. She jerked around, one hand flying up to cover the spot where the scars under her clothing were throbbing in an attempt to twist the simple sensation of being touched until it felt like pain.
The woman sitting directly behind her jumped too. She grabbed her chest and then, after a second or two, cracked a smile, though her eyes remained wide and now glimmered with uncertainty. “Sara?” she whispered.
Sara startled all over again. Total anonymity, that’s what the brochure had claimed. How did this woman know her name? “Y-yes?”
“I didn’t mean to startle you.” The woman’s smile grew just a bit, but she seemed no less uncertain. “You probably don’t remember me. We never actually met. I’d only started attending the Shadowbrook Den when you…uh—” Her eyes flicked to the only one of Sara’s burn scars that were visible—the one on her neck, that ugly pucker of skin that crawled up out of her shirt collar to engulf and distort her left ear lobe. “—when you left,” the woman finished awkwardly.
A flicker of recognition itched at Sara, followed very quickly by dread. “Oh.” It was all she could think of to say. “Oh yeah. I…I think I remember you.”
“I wasn’t there that night, but I heard about what happened.” That awkward sympathy on her face and in her voice grew more pronounced. So did Sara’s dread. “The fire,” the woman specified, as if there could be any doubt.
Sara made herself smile. “I’m okay.”
The woman looked at her scar, the one her hair and high collar couldn’t hide. She took her hand back. “You look good,” she said, just a little too earnestly.
And that was the end of that conversation.
Sara eased back in her chair and faced forward again. In her lap, her hands fisted even tighter. Inside, she felt sick.
“Purple bracelets,” Mrs. Hardwick on the dais called, and Sara all but leapt to her feet. She exited the group of chairs, moving more clumsily than Robert had, her hip having already begun to seize up again. She limped all the way up to the front, joining two other women and one man in an impromptu group beside another maid, but then she glanced back. Unfortunately, the woman was following her to the dais.
“Looks like we’re going to the same place,” she said, trying for cheerfulness now.
Sara looked away. The Castle was a big place. It was entirely possible Sara wouldn’t see this woman again for the duration of her stay.
“My lords and ladies.” Mrs. Hardwick bowed as she addressed them and then gestured to the housemaid who had separated herself from the line of Castle servants who stood waiting to one side. “Natalie is going to show you to Wardrobe and then take you to your assigned rooms. Your Dominants will join you there shortly.”
“I hope our rooms are close together,” the woman behind—now beside Sara—whispered. “It’d be nice having a familiar face while we’re here.”
“Yeah,” Sara tried to smile, but that sickly sensation inside her was churning now.
She wanted to be here, she told herself again. She needed to be here. This was going to be good for them—her and Robert. Nothing else mattered.
“We’re going to have such a great time,” the woman beside her said, beginning to sound excited.
“Yeah,” Sara—the one-track recording—said again. She tried to shake herself out of it. “A great time. Sure.”
Now all she had to do was make herself believe that.
* * * * *
“This place has everything!” Robert declared as he came barreling into their assigned room. His face was flushed, he was so excited. And damn, but he looked good.
Sara didn’t know if dominants got to pick their clothes the way submissives did, but if so, he had definitely chosen right—black leather pants, white poet-sleeved shirt unlaced halfway down his handsome chest and a black leather vest that brought the contrast between them together. She had a thing for leather: the feel of it, smell of it, sight of it. His outfit absolutely made hers—cream-colored brocade, off-the-shoulder princess gown with a shawl that hid her burns (all but the one that crawled up the side of her neck), and a matching corset that made her breasts look twice as large and her waist half as small. Sara got up off the bed where she’d been sitting, limping slightly as she met him halfway across the floor of the small apartment they’d been assigned to share.
“Everything,” Robert gushed again. “Dungeon, stockade, equipment the likes of which make the Shadowbrook look like a wanna-be beginners group!”
Her heart gave a faltering skip when he caught her face between his warm hands and kissed her soundly. When he pulled back, he looked at her so warmly, so sexily. It was exactly like the looks he used to give her back when they’d first started dating—back before he realized how screwed up she was.
“We are going to have so much fun here.” His thumbs caressed the curves of her face. “There’s something else, too. Something I want to show you. I don’t want you to be scared. Trust me, okay? Can you trust me, Sara?”
This was the happiest he’d looked since they first boarded the bus to come here.
Sara nodded. “Of course, I trust you.”
For looks like this, she’d have said anything he wanted to hear, done anything he wanted her to do. It didn’t even matter that he hadn’t noticed her dress.
He grinned, pulling her toward the door. He looked down at her as he held it open. “You look nice.”
His roving stare turned slightly critical when it came to rest on her shoulders. Both their smiles dimmed a little then. “Are you sure you need the shawl?”
“I’m a little cold,” she lied.
Robert opened his mouth, but then closed it again without agruing. He forced his smile back almost to what it had been. “All right.” His hand squeezed hers. “It’s okay. You’re going to like this,” he assured and led her down the hall.
The Castle was huge, much larger on the inside it seemed than it had from the outer courtyard. Since the twist of scar tissue on her left hip sometimes gave her trouble on stairs, their room was one of only a handful of guest quarters located on the first floor (the woman from orientation was, thankfully, located somewhere else). And still there could have been no less than thirty apartments in this wing alone. As she followed Robert, they passed the double-door entrances to three other wings and at least several hundred people.
They were everywhere, some heading to the complimentary dining hall and others for the fine dining restaurant, some to the ballroom where soothing music was playing and two professional instructors were walking guests through the dance steps of a courtly waltz. A steady stream of people were heading outside while others came in and everywhere she looked, everyone was in costume—from super heroes and villains to schoolgirls, to Roman slaves and gladiators to Viking warriors, to royalty like Robert and herself, right on down to every niche in the serving class. There was nothing about any of them that stood out in a way for her to tell who might be guests and who actually worked here.
They passed two servants just outside the ballroom. One, a scantily dressed maid in a barely-there corseted uniform, had sat three seats ahead of them on the bus ride in. The butler, on the other hand, was anybody’s guess. Neat, stern, dressed all in black with a very lethal-looking switch clasped behind his back, he stood frowning down at the chastened maid. When he held out his hand, she heaved a sigh and removed her earbuds and passed him her cellphone, currently playing through her iTunes list.
“I can see I’m going to have trouble with you,” the butler said, pocketing the device. “Modern conveniences are allowed in the privacy of your room and only one other place within the Castle grounds, and that is where?”
“The Rainbow Room,” the maid dutifully answered.
“Are you in the Rainbow Room?”
“Turn and grab your ankles. If you value your hide, you’ll not let go before I tell you.”
Sara didn’t know if it was his tone or the actual command, but the butler’s words sent the most delicious shiver dancing down through her.
“Sounds like someone is going to get her naughty bottom warmed,” Robert said, flashing her a sideways grin.
In spite of her initial misgivings, those dancing tendrils turned to excitement. Maybe this wasn’t going to be so bad after all.
Giving her fingers another squeeze and with the echoing snap of the switch and yelps of the maid growing distant behind them, Robert led her through a maze of stone corridors back to the main entrance hall.
“Do you feel up to tackling a few stairs?” he asked. “They say there’s an elevator around here somewhere.”
He paused to fish a map out of his back pocket, but Sara shook her head. “No, it’s okay. I can do a few steps.”
Anything to see him flash another of those smiles. He even squeezed her hand and gave the backs of her fingers a kiss. “Good girl.”
Funny, how praise like that had the power to melt her inside.
He pulled her toward the stairs, a massive curving staircase that led up to an open second story landing. But instead of taking her up, he drew her into a side alcove to a hidden door and another secret staircase, this one leading down.
From the moment he opened it, the bass thump and crisp snaps of Adam Lambert’s ‘For Your Entertainment’ filtered up to them. The sound-proofing in this place was nothing short of amazing.
“Here.” Robert started down first, but turned and offered up his hand for support.
“Thanks.” She took the stairs slowly, careful both of her skirts, her heels and her hip. She’d do anything for one of Robert’s smiles, but by the fourth step down, she began to feel the tightness in her skin growing painfully tighter. By the time she reached the bottom, it felt as if her scars were tearing open where her hip met her thigh with every step she took. She pressed her hand over the spot, pushing in hard until the sensation melted in intensity to a dull throb.
“You okay?” Robert asked.
She made herself smile past the pain. “Just a twinge—oh wow—” She broke off, falling silent with awe. Standing at the bottom of the steps, Sara looked around the dungeon play space. It was very open, a series of long rooms that were sectioned off by stone pillars and half walls, and filled with people and the biggest collection of BDSM equipment and paraphernalia that she had ever seen.
There was something for everyone. Station after evenly spaced station boasted spanking bench after St. Andrew’s cross after padded horse, table, saddle, stocks, poles, hooks on chains suspended from the ceiling, sex slings and row, shelf and rack of implements of every material, shape and kind.
“Oh. Wow,” she said again, looking around.
“No kidding,” he agreed.
At least two hundred people wandered the play area, but the equipment was just spaced out enough for it not to feel too crowded. An occupancy sign posted on the wall at the bottom of the steps claimed the space rated for five hundred. From here, she could see four neon exit signs, the only hint of modernization in the place, apart from the music. Everything else felt like something right out of history. The grand inquisition is what came immediately to mind, and for a while she found herself watching as, straight ahead of them, a naked man was strapped onto a cross while his master selected both a heavy strap and lexan cane from the wall.
“Come on.” Robert tugged her hand, drawing her attention away. They weaved a path through the crowd, past a well-spanked woman in medieval stocks being ‘forced’ to attend her master orally. She was grunting, drooling, gasping for air whenever her master allowed it, her make-up so smeared by tears and other things that she could have stood as a female stunt double for the Joker. In an instant, Sara imagined herself in that woman’s place, with her face being held like that while her master thrust all the way in to the back of her throat. She felt her stomach tighten, a delicious sensation she hadn’t felt in such a very, very long time.
“It’s right over here.” Robert glanced back over his shoulder, giving her another of those grins that transformed his smile into something so handsome and boyish. “You trust me, right?”
Why did he keep asking that?
She laughed a little. “Of course I trus—”
In the next split second, she caught the unmistakable, acrid scent of alcohol and the cluster of observers gathered just beyond Robert inexplicably parted, as if on someone else’s cue. It wasn’t by much, just enough for her to catch glimpse of the fire wand igniting. That burst of flame brought Sara’s entire world crashing to a stop.
Her chest tightened, a painful spasm so violent and abrupt, it felt as if her heart had just stopped. Everything disappeared—the costumed crowd, Robert—only the smell remained and the sight of that burning wand being lowered to tap the back of the naked woman lying prone on her padded table. Yellow fire raced down her spine and though it was promptly brushed out again, in a flash every bit as quick, suddenly Sara was back in that club in California, burning in a pool of liquid fire.
Everything around her jerked. Sara didn’t realize it was because she herself had moved that way, wrenching her hand out of Robert’s though he tried to grab her arm. She twisted to run, but her legs refused to follow her and she fell, crashing to the floor in a rip of costumed skirts. Pain shot from the impact through her hip and up her back. She must have screamed, though she didn’t realize that either, not until everyone around her turned to stare. She flailed on her back on the floor, every limb scrambling and clawing to get her uncooperative body moving, unable to tear her eyes off the sight of that flaming wand. Unable to stop screaming.
Robert turned away from her, stabbing his fingers back through his hair and something hard struck her back. It yielded almost immediately and the next thing she knew, Sara was kick-crawling backwards across cool bathroom tiles. She stopped only when she crashed into wall between two urinals, one of which was in use. Zipping quickly back into his pants, the startled man jumped back from her and then fled the bathroom entirely.
The most horrible noise reverberated through the small room—high-pitched, scratchy, rattling in and out of raspy sound and repeating over and over again. It bounced off the bathroom walls, filling her ears. It was her, she suddenly recognized. She was still screaming, and it barely sounded human.
She wasn’t burning. The fire hadn’t touched her, hadn’t even come close, and still it took real effort before she could make that awful sound stop coming. Huddled against the wall, shaking violently, she clutched her knees to her chest and stared at the door. The smell of the fuel was still in her nose, although now it mingled with the equally pungent odor of something else—ammonia.
She had wet herself.