I’ll ruin her innocence.
Haley thinks she’s a good girl. The kind of woman who would never break the club’s rules. While others flaunt their pleasures, Haley protects her innocence like it’s her most valuable possession, and that intrigues me.
Deviant hunger lurks behind her pure eyes, calling to me. She craves degradation as much as I do.
So when my rival and I make a bet, I indulge. Whoever takes Haley’s innocence will win the other’s business, and I intend to win.
It doesn’t matter that I want to take her. To claim her. To show her what it means to be mine.
I will corrupt her, destroying everything she holds sacred.
Because in the end, Haley’s innocence will give me power.
And her life will be ruined.
Author’s Note: This dark romance includes the billionaire manipulating the heroine. It contains disturbing content. Reader discretion is advised.
Triggers & Content: virginity, manipulation, sex work, dubious consent
Kinks: boot worship, degradation, dubious consent, virginity
Interconnected Standalone: The couple gets their HEA, but the secret club plot continues throughout the series.
Mama died like this. A face full of makeup. Trusting a man to play a game that she would never win. I should have been thrilled. What could be more exciting to be playing with knives with a man who wanted nothing more than to fuck you?
But this was Aldrich. I had known him for years. There was no attraction there.
He held the knife to my throat, using it to jerk my chin to look up at him. “Your last words?”
Always his famous ‘final’ line. “Oh, please,” I whispered in my best voice, “Don’t hurt me, sir.”
Aldrich narrowed his eyes and studied me for a moment. The gray hair at his temples seemed to wither away the longer we played there.
Get on with it, I thought.
He brought the knife over the top of my breast. The knife marked a raised white line on my skin. Some of it would scab over, and some of it would disappear by morning. Dahlia, the owner of the entertainment club, the Dahlia District, never put a limit on the knives or weapons the club members could use. Those limitations were up to us.
I let out a quiet huff. The knife was large, with a hook on one end and a wooden handle on the other. Aldrich had been proud when he first purchased it years ago; Custom made, he had said. A skinning knife. Just for you. The man had never gone hunting, let alone skinned an animal. He only used it in the Terrariums, these small private rooms, like the one we were in now. Each raised white line itched like a paper cut. It didn’t feel like an act of desire.
“I don’t think I’m done,” he said. “Lower your bra.”
Ah. He had heard the sarcasm in my voice then. I closed my eyes, hiding the urge to roll them, and pulled the fabric, the smallest amount I could manage while still fulfilling his request.
“Take it off,” he barked. I unbuckled the strap, then threw the bra on the ground. His hand found my breast. “We can end this right now,” he said. “You know how.”
If I slept with him, Aldrich wouldn’t find sessions like this interesting anymore. He’d have more options. He could move on to a newer, younger server. But Dahlia had taught me from the beginning, If you never want to bore him, make him chase. Never give in. He was one of the best club members we had. Reliable. Dependent. Here at the club night after night. Always with the same requests.
I shook my head back and forth. Oh, the acting. I couldn’t help it. I didn’t have it in me to play along properly with his fantasies that night. “Mr. Aldrich, I beg you, please don’t—”
He brought the knife down to the top of my breast and pressed down. The paper cut turned into a searing pain, and I shot up.
“Ow,” I said. He shoved my shoulder down.
Blood dripped down.
“What the hell?” I yelled.
The smile widened across his face, his white teeth matching the hair at his temples. He hopped off the bed, but it was already too late. I cupped my breast. A thin line, an inch long, at the top of my breast marked me.
“Aldrich,” I hissed. “This—”
“I know. I know. Double the fee. Time to heal. Never again,” he said. Of course, a billionaire like Aldrich didn’t care about the added expense for breaking my terms. “You weren’t trying very hard. I have to keep you on your toes, you know.”
“Or you could tell me to try harder.”
“What fun would that be?” Blood pooled in my hand. He grabbed a towel from underneath the table in the corner, then took his time rearranging the table cloth before handing the towel to me. I grabbed it with my free hand, then pressed it into my breast. Put pressure on it. It didn’t hurt. Not really. It was more of the principle of it. Our terms dictated that there would be no wounds.
But this wasn’t the first time Aldrich had purposely broken the rules.
“Lighten up,” he said. He took a seat on the long couch stretching across the back of the room, running his palms along the plush velvet. “It’ll heal in a couple of days.”
“I still have to perform like this,” I said. He reached under the table again and found me a band-aid with some antibiotic ointment.
“No one will notice.”
Every time I moved, I would notice. The towel on my chest was speckled with red now. It wasn’t bleeding as much as I thought, but I pointed at the door. “Just go.”
“And leave you here to fend for yourself?” He raised a brow. Like he was a damn knight in shining armor.
Fine. If he wasn’t going to leave, then I was. I motioned for him to get up, then I grabbed my bra off of the floor and walked to the door myself. “I’m going to freshen up.”
“I’ll buy you a drink,” he said.
Once I opened the door, I stormed over to the Greenhouse. Connected to the main entertainment floor of the Dahlia District, the Greenhouse was a separate building that held two dressing rooms for the women who lived off property, and a few dozen closet-sized bedrooms for those of us that lived here.
I poked my head into the first dressing room. A long countertop faced a mirror, each individual section separated by dim vanity lights. Curlers and makeup were strewn across the countertop. A few late-arrivals applied mascara as they talked.
“Iris in yet?” I asked.
One of the servers shook her head. “Haven’t seen her.”
Iris lived on property too, but she found reasons to be in the dressing rooms. She liked to pretend she had a home outside of the Dahlia District, as if she came here for fun. Even though she was young, she was the server many of us went to when we had crappy experiences in the Terrariums. She always found a way to spin a bright side on any session, no matter how poorly it had gone, preaching that there was good in everything. Even a place like the Dahlia District had potential.
I could use some of that optimism right now.
I poked my head into the next dressing room and found Iris’s choppy black bob. Her big eyes widened.
“He cut you this time?” she asked. I nodded. “Ugh. But,” she sat up, “remember to use it as a bargaining chip next time. Leverage.”
“Should there even be a next time?” I asked.
“Girl,” she tilted her head, “be careful, but don’t waste an opportunity.” She winked. “You can add a zero.”
The thought of receiving more money was nice, but it didn’t seem worth the hassle. I waved, then went down the dimly lit corridor to my bedroom, towards the back, the same one Mama had used. The twin bed, the dresser topped with a vanity mirror, and the round storage ottoman all barely fit. I sank onto the ottoman. They hadn’t even cleaned the room out when Mama died. I had absorbed all of her things. Dahlia figured I could use them, and I did.
I looked in the mirror. I hadn’t realized it, but I had sweat so much during the session that the hairs at my scalp were curling. The rest of my hair had a distinct wave to it now.
I removed the towel and tossed it into the laundry basket hidden underneath the bed. The cut wasn’t bleeding anymore, and it didn’t look as bad as I thought. Maybe it wouldn’t break open and bleed on stage.
Mama had died like this. Her hair done. Makeup carefully applied. The mortician had joked that she was so pretty already, he didn’t have to add much to make her look perfect in the coffin. I hadn’t found that funny. And when I look up in the mirror before I return to the Dahlia District, I find it ironic: my hair and makeup are so much like hers. You would think that I would strive to do the opposite. But someone like me could never escape our contract. My inheritance.
My phone rattled on the table. Nora blinked on the screen. My little sister.
“What’s up?” I said. I checked the time; it was past nine p.m. I wasn’t used to her calling this late.
“You’re going to be mad at me,” she said, her voice squeaky.
“Yeah… You know I’m in high school now, right?”
She was in the same, very private, all-girl boarding school that she had been in since she was a baby. Mama had enrolled her from the start, arguing that it was worth the expense to keep her hidden. Dahlia knew about me, but Mama could try to save Nora.
“Well, it’s not technically high school—”
“You know what I mean,” she sighed. “Anyway, there’s a winter ball at the end of the semester, and I know you don’t like that stuff, but Chance asked me, and—”
“Yeah. He’s that boy I was telling you about. From Sea Lodge?”
Sea Lodge College Preparatory was the all-boys equivalent to Nora’s school. She had mentioned a boy, but I guess I had blocked it out. It was hard for me to think of her as a young woman who had urges and feelings.
One way I promised Mama to keep Nora safe, was to not let her get close to a boy. We couldn’t risk the pregnancy, and it made me cringe to think of her with a broken heart. Love made you do stupid things, make stupid decisions, trust people you shouldn’t. It had happened to Mama, but I wouldn’t let it happen to Nora too.
But my heart raged with my mind. Nora deserved those experiences. To be with her peers, to feel like a queen, to make memories she would never forget. Memories that I never had.
“Tell me about this winter ball,” I said.
“They’re holding it at the conference center in the Sage City,” she said. Which made sense. Most of the students in her school were from Sage City, the metropolitan area outside of town. “You know, next to the Observatory?” She paused, took a deep breath in, then added with a sharp exhale that seemed to compress her next few words into one, “And tickets are twenty-five hundred dollars each.”
“Tickets are two thousand and five hundred dollars?” I asked in a high-pitched voice. “Are they feeding you gold-leafed ice cream?”
“I don’t know,” Nora whined. “I just want to go.”
I suppose I should have been happy that she was asking me. At her age, I would have found a way to attend without Mama knowing, but after dresses and tickets, my high school dances would have been a couple hundred bucks. Not a couple thousand.
But that’s what it took to keep Nora safe and secret: a private boarding school that was worth the debt I incurred to keep her there. As long as the Dahlia District never got their reins around Nora.
“Let’s talk about it tomorrow,” I said. I tried not to show that I was already caving.
“Okay,” she said, her voice chipper. I was that obvious to my sister, wasn’t I? A pushover.
The hardest part was letting her go, knowing that anything could happen to her. I would never be free of my existence at the Dahlia District, so money wasn’t the biggest issue. What was another few thousand on top of my debt? You’d hope that an entertainment club for hedonistic billionaires would pay its employees well, and it did. The problem was that most of it went to pay our debts. Sometimes, we never saw a cent.
So would you call us employees? With the debt that most of us owed, we would be here until we died. Some of us had even absorbed our parents’ debts, like me.
It’s not like we could run away. I had watched what happened to servers who tried to abandon their contracts. Dahlia had an arrangement with the local mob and used runaways as an example to all of us. We had too many loved ones on the line. It was better to serve your time and do as you were told.
Dahlia told me once that you couldn’t call it sex trafficking, nor a brothel, because sex was forbidden. When it came up, she preferred to call us servers ‘indentured servants.’ As if that made it any better.
After straightening my hair and tending to the minor cut, I joined the rest of the servers on the main floor. Aldrich was waiting in front of the stage, where an aerial hoop hung suspended in the air, the rope around the top hanging from a beam hidden in the shafts of the stage. A colorful sea of servers in lingerie surrounded him. There weren’t many other guests around, which explained why Aldrich was so popular. Good for him.
“She’s back!” Aldrich said. I sucked in a breath and plastered a smile on my face. “And survived, no less,” he said to one of the servers, who giggled on command. The jerk must have told them I had overreacted about the cut. It wasn’t the cut itself that bothered me; we agreed to terms, and he hadn’t followed them.
I gestured at the stage. “Aerial hoop, then?”
He nodded. “I’m expecting someone. Do something to impress my guest.”
I selected the song Sick by Donna Missal, not because of Aldrich, but because it was my personal favorite and it made the sting of performing for him less jarring. Then I removed my silk robe and adjusted my bra and panties, double-checking the cut to make sure that it wouldn’t break open again. Then I stepped out of my shoes, placing them out of the way in the staircase leading up to the stage.
The music started, and I held onto the metal hoop, making it drift back and forth as I spun in circles. Once it slowed, I lifted my legs, keeping my toes pointed, and scooped my ankles inside of the hoop, keeping all of my limbs straight. Then I angled my body against the curve, arching my back as far as it would go, letting a loose hand fall beside me.
A man in a suit came across the back of the club. Only billionaire club members were allowed inside of the Dahlia District, and I didn’t recognize this new one. He glanced up at the stage, but then he made his way towards Aldrich’s group.
None of the servers had noticed him yet. They were paying attention to Aldrich, who was whispering into their ears, but all of their eyes were on me. To save the club member from being swarmed by the servers, I didn’t look at him closely; not yet. I wanted to give him a moment to relax before the hawks caught his scent.
Using one hand to hold on to the top of the hoop with my legs as an anchor, I cast my hips forward, then looked at the audience, making eye contact with anyone who was watching. The blank eyes. The forced smiles.
Until I came upon him.
That new member. Dark hair. Light brown eyes with a hint of hazel that made them bright. Facial hair impeccably groomed, a roughness that contrasted with his suit. His clothes looked expensive and custom-tailored, fitting to his toned body. Still standing, he leaned forward against the back of a chair, his hands spread wide as if he was ready to make a deal I couldn’t refuse.
For a moment, I forgot what I was doing.
“Hales,” one of the servers whispered.
I hated it when people used that name. It was a stupid nickname Aldrich had made up. As if faux familiarity made my rejections less painful for him.
I lifted one of my legs to the top of the hoop and used that move to transition into a gazelle, an upside-down pose with one knee hooking onto the inside of the hoop with a straight leg on the outside. Then I straightened the bent knee, holding onto the hoop, doing the splits in the air.
The man moved closer to the stage. His eyes were glued to me.
There was a magnetic appeal to him. The confidence oozed through his pores and made me wonder. He must have seen aerial dancers before; what was so special about me? One of the servers at the far end of Aldrich’s flock went to greet him, but he ignored her and kept coming to the stage. He stood at the edge and again had both hands stretched out across the wooden floor as he looked up at me. The hoop spun and spun, and I caught a glimpse of him.
“Hi,” I said during one of those turns.
He said nothing.
Now, Aldrich’s group was whispering about him. At least their attention had shifted from me. The song ended, and I let myself down, trying not to be too eager about the man still standing there. But nervous energy surged through my body, knowing that his eyes were still on me, making it feel like I couldn’t quite do anything right.
The man waited to the side of the stage near the steps. He watched me put on my heels, and I swallowed hard. His attention was a damn spotlight, and not the kind I was used to. He beamed down at me, making me hot all over. What was so different about him? None of the other club members made me feel flustered like this.
I stood, meeting him on equal ground. I held out a hand. He didn’t move.
“I’m Haley,” I finally said. No, no. Damn it. This was embarrassing. My fingers twitched, waiting for the returned gesture. But this wasn’t an office meeting. There were no handshakes. I should’ve said something else. Something sexy or enticing. But I tend to forget how to fake it when caught off-guard, especially by someone so impressive. I closed my hand into a fist, then dropped it to my side. A blush warmed my cheeks and I looked away, holding my focus somewhere else for a moment, before I looked back at him.
A subtle smile crossed his plush lips. Finally, he took my hand from my side and squeezed it.
His voice was deep and reverberating: “Lucas Conway.”