Home > Bound to Deception

Bound to Deception
Author: J.L. Beck

 

1

 

 

CILLA

 

 

It’s difficult to apply mascara when your hand is shaking harder than a gambler waiting for his next win. Hell, it’s difficult to do anything when you know this is the night you’re going to die. I blink away the tears threatening to ruin my makeup and take a few shallow breaths so I don’t fog up the mirror two inches in front of my face.

A deep baritone voice calls from outside the dressing room. “Cilla, babe, get out here. You’re late.” Shit. I thought I had more time to talk myself into this.

I curse again and press my forehead to the cold glass. Something to ground me. Anything. Then I swallow all the self-hatred, the noise in my head, everything telling me I’m going to fail, and shove it deep. It won’t help me get through the night unscathed, but at least I can go out with some fucking dignity.

I quickly finish my makeup, stash my kit in my locker, and jam my feet into the six-inch platform heels that will have my toes blistered by the end of the night.

Frankie is standing outside the door, staring pointedly at his watch. “Finally finished, princess? We gotta get to the bar. The crowd is already growing.”

I wave him off, marching past him toward the lounge area. He cuts me off before I can head into the VIP section. “You were late. The quota is full for VIPs. You’re at the bar to pick up stragglers.”

It’s fine. I lie to myself like I always do as I ramp up my fake-ass smile, turn, and head toward the bar rail. The crowd at the bar is thin, like usual, so this will be my punishment for being late. But it doesn’t matter. I have business to attend to here first.

I skirt the end of the rail and sidle up to a man in his thirties parked on a barstool. By the size of the mess around him, he’s been waiting a while.

“Hey, handsome.” I give him a smile I don’t feel.

He drops his gaze to my feet and gives me a slow perusal until he reaches my breasts. “Hey.”

I barely keep from rolling my eyes. “Looking for a date tonight?”

He shrugs. “Could be. How much we talkin’ here?”

I reach in front of him, so I can curl around his upper arm, pressing my breasts into his bicep. “Oh, I don’t know. A handsome fellow like you? I can probably give you a discount.”

As he shifts, he slides his hand over mine, shoving a tiny plastic-wrapped package under my fingers. The move is so smooth that I understand why Essex is said to be the best at drops.

He gives me another long look and pats the back of my hand, making me clench the tiny packet. “Nah, babe, I don’t think I can afford you tonight. But thanks.”

I shrug softly like it’s his loss and turn. I don’t make it a step before his hand lands on my ass with a loud crack. A sharp pain radiates from the contact, but I clench my jaw and continue walking away.

When I return to the other end of the bar, I keep my hand closed around my prize and do not rub the sore spot on my ass from the slap.

One part of my plan is in motion. Now I just need the other part.

Ivan.

One of the most dangerous men in the city. And the man who is likely going to kill me before the night is over. I keep my smile wide even as a chill races down my spine. How did I get myself into this mess?

The bartender slides a glass of soda water with lime in front of me. I give him a grateful nod and spin to survey the VIP section. Ivan always ends up there when he comes in. I need to be waiting so he doesn’t pick up another girl or, hell, just walk through and not stay.

I stare around, hoping to catch a glimpse of his usual black-on-black suit or the black ink scrawled up his long neck and over his graceful fingers. Not that I’ve been staring at him too often. Only enough to be able to recognize him quickly.

I slide down the bar to perch on a stool, glad Frankie is distracted with some of the new girls at the far end of the VIP section. He’d be pissed if he caught me sitting.

The music changes, and I keep my eyes on the VIP section and down the bar in case he enters that way. Usually, he comes from the back, but I want to be prepared either way.

The air in the club changes, and it’s almost like the building itself is holding its breath. I swallow the sudden knot in my throat and watch for him.

As usual, he enters from the back of the VIP section. Frankie and a couple of the girls lock eyes on him, but Ivan keeps his gaze forward. At least he looks relaxed tonight. Some nights, he comes in wired, almost looking for a fight.

Frankie moves from the corner of my eye, shoving one of the new girls after Ivan.

Oh, hell no. This one is mine. At least for tonight.

I race up the short steps and cut her off. “You don’t want to do that, honey.”

I grab her arms like I just steadied her from a fall. “Seriously. Let me take this one. Go back to Frankie. Let him start you on someone a little less…brutal.”

Her eyes widen, and then she spins and practically races back to Frankie and the other clustered girls.

I don’t wait and give Frankie a chance to stop me. I spin and rush after Ivan as quickly as possible in six-inch heels. He throws his long frame into a booth, and I drop myself dead center on his lap. “Hey, gorgeous, looking for a date?”

He drops his dark gaze to mine. There’s a hardness there. A steel that threatens to bend me to his will with just a look. My blond hair has tumbled over my shoulders and pools between us, keeping me from getting a better look at him up close. “Who are you?”

His voice is deep, dredged in darkness, and dare I say it…desire. Shit. I hadn’t expected to actually react to him. It’s been a long time since my body awoke for a John.

I swallow and smile. Not my fake megawatt smile with teeth. Just a wry twist of my lips, barely a smile. “Priscilla.”

“Why are you sitting on me, Priscilla?” His tone is sharp enough to draw blood.

Luckily for me, I grew up with men like him. Crazy bastards who will do anything to get ahead. I don’t even flinch.

“You looked a little lonely. Thought I’d come offer you my company. Would you like a drink? I’d be happy to get us both one.”

I teeter on his legs, and he spreads his solid thighs to give me more real estate. His fingers dig into my spine, holding me so I don’t fall. One of his hands comes up to catch my chin so he can look at me, and I spot black fingernail polish on his pinky. Strange. “Fine. Make it quick. I’ve got shit to do tonight.”

I give him a wink, hop off his lap, and head toward the bar. The girl I’d cut off is waiting there with a pout. “Frankie says you just screwed me over by taking that guy. That he’s a big tipper.”

I signal the bartender, and he spots Ivan over my shoulder. While he makes the drinks, I turn to face the new girl. “What’s your name?”

“Amanda.” She crosses her arms under her breasts to give her waif-thin frame some bulk.

It takes a lot more than a hundred-pound kid to rattle me. “Look. He is a big tipper, but he likes to do things that would take your pretty fair skin a lot longer to recover from.”

Her eyes go wide, and she drops her gaze to the tiny, faded pucker scars up and down my right bicep. I don’t say a word and let her draw her own conclusions.

“What made those marks?”

The bartender sets our drinks in front of me, and I pull them close. “Cigarettes, honey. Those are burns from cigarettes.”

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