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I can taunt her. Tease her. Torment her. Desire her... 

...as long as it is part of our training.
Caring about her was never part of the plan. 

Our agreement is simple: Heather will help me avenge my late mother by pretending to be a gift for the enemy. In return, I will keep her sister safe.

Heather’s life depends on me. I know that her training will lead her to the truth: the man who collars her can’t protect her from the darkness locked inside, nor the secrets that will ruin her. I’m as dangerous to Heather as the enemy.

Heather was never meant to be more than an alluring trap. A tantalizing gift. An expendable toy. Resisting her shouldn’t be difficult, if it weren’t for that streak of deep, fierce loyalty coursing through her veins. She intrigues me, and that makes her more than a toy. 

But she is crucial to my revenge. As long as the enemy lives, she is mine to control. 

Author's Note: His Toy is a standalone book in the new dark romance series, The Afterglow. It is a dominant and submissive romance, and contains themes of captivity, confinement, and cruelty. Reader discretion is advised.

Content Warnings

Triggers & Content: sadistic antihero, missing sibling, captivity, trauma, physical abuse (of the antihero by a secondary character), trauma (child neglect of heroine by parents), clear consent

Kinks: clear consent, high protocol, impact play, voyeurism

Interconnected Standalone: The couple gets their HEA, but the secret club plot continues throughout the series. 

Chapter 1
Heather

A group of people disappeared behind the unmarked entrance. I hid in the shadows of the building, searching, waiting. For her. Hazel was in there. Or, at least, it was her last known location. This was my first time in Las Vegas, but instead of being in the bright lights, I was chasing after my sister. 

 

Find me in the afterglow.

 

My sister has a knack for theatrics, even in an e-mail as short as that. But I had to take care of my sister. We had grown up being dumped into different family friend’s laps like garbage straight into the can. I had learned I couldn’t trust anyone to take care of us. Not really. Not our parents. Not Great Uncle Walter. Not even Hazel. And in our twenties, nothing had really changed.

 

Three people in black pea coats shuffled along, disappearing into the building too. I craned my neck around the corner at the entrance. No markings, no windows. This place reeked of suspicion. 

 

A lone woman, her hair tucked into a tight bun at the nape of her neck, strode swiftly towards the entrance doors. She acknowledged me before passing. A thick bouncer met her at the door. He tilted his chin.

 

“We came for the glow,” she said, her voice loud, carrying around the corner to me. He stepped aside, letting her in.

 

We came for the glow? What glow? Was that a reference to the lights of Las Vegas?

 

The building, despite the lack of signage, was called Club Hades, but the hosts of the party—group? organization? affiliation?—called themselves the Afterglow. There was very little I could find about them, except that they held these parties. 

 

Another large group came towards the entrance, and I followed behind, keeping my head bowed. After greeting him, the bouncer waved them through, then stood in front of me.

 

He was six feet tall, wider than a body-builder, but solid. In the dim light, his skin looked blue. The beard on his chin was stark white.

 

“Good evening,” he said. He flexed his shoulders. “What can I do for you.” 

 

It wasn’t a question, though. More like an accusation.

 

“I’m here for the party,” I said. What else would I be there for?

 

“There’s no party,” he barked.

 

“The Afterglow? I’m here for whatever the hell it is. A masquerade? A ball? Did they say it was a play party? I don’t know—” I stammered. I shuffled through my backpack, finding my phone. I flipped to the gallery. “My sister was here a few weeks ago. Hazel. Maybe you know her?” I found the first picture I had of her: her bleached hair in waves, her skin luminous, that white smile.

 

“You know Hazel,” he said.

 

“She’s my sister.”

 

“I don’t know what Hazel told you, but there ain’t no party here.”

 

“I’m looking for my sister. She hasn’t responded to any of my messages, or anyone’s, since coming here.”

 

The bouncer nodded slowly. “My condolences,” he said. “But there ain’t no party.”

 

“What seems to be the problem?” a woman’s voice cut through. The woman with the tight bun, now donning a silky black dress hugging her curves, put a hand on her hip. 

 

“Says she’s here for the party. There ain’t no party,” the bouncer said.

 

“Well, of course not, but there is a gathering, now, isn’t there?”

 

And then I remembered what they all said. A password.

 

“Wecamefortheglow,” I said it so quickly my words slurred together. Both of them looked at me with shock on their faces. I curtsied. “We came for the glow. We came. We saw. We need the glow. That’s the code, right? The password? Please?”

 

The woman raised an eyebrow, then turned to the bouncer. “See? She’s with me.”

 

The woman grabbed me by the shoulder and yanked me into the building. The first room was a lobby; each wall was covered in black lockers. Several people shoved their belongings into bags, then crammed them into the metal cubbies. A man in the back corner stripped down to absolutely nothing quicker than a blink. I turned away.

 

“Are you from around here?” the woman asked.

 

“I… I just moved here.” It never got any easier to say that. It always separated you from the others. An outsider. And here, where you needed a password, it wasn’t any better. I held out a hand. “I’m Heather. I’m looking for Hazel.”

 

“Hazel?” She tilted her head, staring at my outstretched hand. For being kind enough to grant me entrance, it was strange that she refused to shake hands. “Hazel hasn’t been around these parts in quite some time.”

 

“But you know her?” I perked up. “My sister?”

 

“She’s been around before,” she said, her eyes narrowing. “You don’t look like Hazel.”

 

While Hazel had shoulder-length platinum blond hair, I had coffee-colored hair that covered my chest. My shoulders were bronzed, like Hazel’s, but I had tan lines from long hikes in the parks. Hazel’s skin was flawless, evenly colored. But we had the same turquoise eyes. 

 

“We share blood,” I said. As if I needed proof.

 

The woman shrugged and motioned towards a door. “Listen. You’ll hear her name. But I’d be careful about what you say. Our group is wary of outsiders.” You don’t say? I thought. Her eyes trailed me up and down. “You have anything else to wear?”

 

A woman was being zipped into head-to-toe latex behind us. It was hard not to stare. I looked down at my clothes. Jeans and a hoodie weren’t exactly what this crowd was going for. I shook my head.

 

She opened a locker and pulled out a sheer black dress. “Here,” she said. “Keep it.” I blinked. This was mesh, completely see-through. You’d be able to see everything. Did she think I could wear that?

 

The woman slinked towards the door, and I stared. She was perfect. She would look like a gothic angel in the mesh dress. Not me. I guess it was flattering that she assumed I could pull it off.

 

I checked my phone again, trying to glean it for clues. 

 

Find me in the afterglow. The second message: This isn’t what you think it is. Then: nothing.

I hadn’t thought anything of the first message—Hazel was like that, always making a scene, a way to rebel against our lack of home—but the second message, sent a few days later, had made me pause. I can’t explain why, but it made me think about our parents. That maybe Hazel found the truth. We had both been searching for answers for so long, about what had happened to us, and to them. Maybe it meant that she had found what really happened to them, or had found something better, a home.

 

Whatever it was, she was right. The truth was never what you thought it was. But it was always better to know that truth. 

 

I emailed her back, but as usual, she didn’t respond. Then she disappeared from social media completely. No digital footprint. No trail of crumbs. Her last check-in had been in Las Vegas. She had attended an event by the Afterglow.

 

A hand landed on my shoulder. “No phones,” the bouncer barked.

 

I stowed it quickly in my backpack. “Sorry,” I mumbled. 

 

He gestured at the lockers. “Use ‘em,” he said. “But no phones.”

 

I put my backpack in the locker, then clutched the dress. Even if I was facing the wall, I could feel the people around me dressing down and up again, with such ease. From large coats to outfits I had only seen in pictures. Shiny latex. Rubber. Leather. Corsets sinched up the back. And here I was, a black sheep in street clothes. The see-through mesh ensemble draped over my fingers, thinner than a piece of paper.

 

I opened my hoodie and pulled the shirt away from my body. I was wearing a black bra and panties. At least that counted for something.

 

“You owe me one,” I muttered to myself, as if Hazel could hear me. 

 

Once I was incognito, I entered the same door the woman had taken, into a warehouse—with beams and fixtures and ropes hanging from the ceiling, wound around men and women, others in cages, and others still roaming the maze of equipment. A man in a leather chair smoked a cigar, his feet resting on the back of a woman as if she were his ottoman. In another corner, the woman in head-to-toe latex was whipping an enormous, hulk of a man wearing nothing but a tutu.

 

I was in a dungeon. A damn s&m dungeon.

 

How had Hazel ended up here? Better yet, what had taken Hazel away from here?

 

A pair of tiny, gentle hands moved me forward. I turned to apologize and found the owner of the hands—a young woman in cat ears—wandering off. The noise of the room was vibrant,  a cascading echo of moans, whimpers, cries, and…normal conversation? I looked around, trying to find those voices. To the far left, there was a lounge, with tufted chairs, long-necked bartenders behind a counter, and elegant men and women perched on the seats. They were talking. As if this was a day at the country club.

 

How was it that a discussion between adults was the most surprising thing in the middle of a dungeon?

 

First, I would explore, then I would ask questions. I let my eyes lead the way, taking me deeper into the labyrinth. It was almost like seeing so much that you could see nothing at all. More metal and leather and human flesh than anyone could imagine from the ambiguous exterior.

 

But then I stopped, transfixed. A couple in a nearly private alcove. The man sitting in a deep chair, one hand holding the end of a long metal chain. The links led to a woman’s neck, her body bare, her ass spattered pink. She kneeled beside him. He stroked her cheek, a delicate finger moving along her skin, like she was his precious doll. A toy used for pleasure, for pain. He pulled the chain, bringing her closer to him. She rested her head on his knee, her eyes lowered in serenity. You could tell she felt safe. Protected. Loved. Home. 

 

Then the two of them looked at me. I hadn’t realized I was staring. I turned away. 

 

Hazel. I was here for Hazel.

 

Most of the people in the dungeon area were busy, not exactly up for discussion about a missing person. I refused to believe my sister was, in fact, missing. This was a game, a trick, like it always was. I hadn’t bothered to fill out a report this time. 

 

But I figured the people in the lounge area might be willing to talk. I found my way over there and ordered a glass of wine. Two long couches sat on either side of a low table, covered in the drinks. There sat a group of people: A man in a top hat, a cane resting on his knee. A woman next to him, her legs beneath her like a lioness, with a broad collar covering her shoulders. A person in a leather vest. A slender man in plain black boxer briefs, a dog collar around his neck. A woman in a simple black dress. An empty seat between them.

 

I swallowed a dry breath. Okay, I thought. I can do this.

 

I took the seat and hid behind my glass. The group silenced, and I drank as much as I could in one chug without getting sick. These were normal people. They were just like me. It didn’t matter if they were dressed as if they had walked out of a fantasy, or that they were casually talking as the most depraved things occurred only a few feet away. Things I felt drawn to, like a magnet, a record stuck on repeat. Even if all of these people were tranquil, when I felt drunk with anticipation, this was normal.

 

“Hi,” the woman in the broad collar said.

 

“Hi,” I said.

 

“You new around here?” the man in the top hat asked.

 

“Here, like Club Hades, or like, Las Vegas?”

 

“Whichever,” she answered. A smirk drew across her face, spreading like a Cheshire cat.

 

“I just moved here,” I said. It was the truth. “First time both ways, I guess.”

 

“And do you go both ways?” she asked, tilting her head.

 

“Oh, leave the poor girl alone,” the top hat man said. The leather vested person cleared their throat. “How did you find us?” 

 

“I’m looking for someone, actually,” I said. “She checked in on social media. Maybe you know her.” I went to reach for my phone and remembered it was stored in the locker. I pat my side. 

 

“We generally discourage ‘checking in,’” the top hat man said.

 

“It was hell finding this place,” I muttered. A few of them chuckled. “Her name is Hazel.”

 

“Hazel,” the woman in the black dress said. She looked at the other woman. “Sure, we know her. You say you know Hazel?”

 

“She’s my sister,” I said. The look of shock waved through each of their faces as they exchanged looks.

 

“The last we heard, she was with Eric,” the man in boxer briefs said.

 

“Eric?” I asked.

 

The woman in the broad collar nodded. “Eric and his kind aren’t welcome here anymore.”

 

“What’s wrong with Eric?” I asked. “Does he have a last name?”

 

“Eric… He’s…”

 

“A sociopath,” the leather vested person said.

 

“More like a psychopath,” the black dress woman said.

 

“He had his membership revoked years ago.”

 

“But what’s more interesting is you,” the top hat man said. He inched closer to me, leaning an arm on my shoulder, pressing into me. I shrunk in my seat. “Why someone like you is looking for someone as demented as Hazel.”

 

“I told you,” I said. “She’s my sister.”

 

“Hazel never mentioned a sister,” the broad collared woman said. Their questions were circling me like prey. “You know, come to think of it, Hazel never mentioned any family.”

 

“Just like she didn’t mention her loyalty to Eric,” the top hat man said. 

 

“Yeah. Like when she didn’t mention that she gave my best friend that bad snow,” the boxer brief man said.

What the fuck had my sister done this time? “What happened to your best friend?” I asked.

 

“The same thing that’ll happen to you,” the boxer brief man whispered hoarsely.

 

“Hazel disappeared,” I said, trying to regain my standing in the situation. “I’ve got to find her—”

 

“And we’d love to find her too,” the top hat man said. “Where is she?”

 

“You’re one of his, aren’t you?” the black-dressed woman asked.

 

“Who?” I asked.

 

“We know one of Eric’s pets when we see one.”

 

“Pathetic little things.”

 

They leaned in closer. The longer the conversation went on, the more suffocating it became. Every accusation they made, every question, drowning me deeper into the nightmare of not knowing where Hazel was.

 

“I swear I don’t know—”

 

“Heather,” a strong, male voice called, the word, my name, deep and gravely on his tongue. All of us turned towards that voice.

 

A man with dark, almost black hair, long enough to run my fingers through it, and dark brown eyes, a strong nose, a thin white scar running across one side of his face. He was in a full suit, pressed, tailored to his built frame. I had never seen him before. But he knew my name.

 

I would remember a man like that.

 

“You know Zaid?” the broad collar woman asked. Her jaw was slack.

 

He gestured for me to follow him, and when I didn’t move, he rushed towards me and dug his fingers into my shoulder. He pulled me into a corner of the lounge, down a hallway I hadn’t noticed before. Soon, we were alone in a shadowed room, with nothing but a set of shackles chained to the wall.

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