A Dark Taboo Romance
I ring the bell and take a step back to wait. Moments later, a middle-aged man in a tuxedo opens the door. His gaze lazily drifts over me. “You're a guest of...”
His lips twitch slightly. “But, of course. This way.” And with that, he motions me inside. I follow him across a vast marble lobby, complete with Grecian columns and a water fountain.
“Is this a residential building?” I ask, my voice echoing across the empty room.
He doesn’t respond, simply leads me toward the elevator and presses the call button. The mirrored doors slide open and he steps halfway inside, selects a floor, then moves out as he motions for me to enter. “If it stops on any other floors, don't get off. You won't be able to get back on.”
I open my mouth to speak, but the doors close with a bang. Pachelbel's Canon in D plays over the speakers, and with each floor the elevator passes, my anxiety deepens.
The cool breeze catches my hair when the doors open to a rooftop terrace offering a breathtaking view of the glittering city. I step off and I
turn to take it in, stopping when my gaze lands on the lone table placed in the middle of the patio. A stainless-steel ice bucket sits on the center of the white tablecloth, a bottle of champagne resting within. A weird feeling settles over me, an irrational fear that tells me to run. But when I turn around to get back on the elevator, I find a blank panel with nothing more than a card key reader. I can’t leave. I’m trapped.
“Leaving so soon, Ms. Taylor?”
I spin around and spot Tobias Benton’s back as he leans over the railing at the far end of the terrace. Another man stands to his side, smoke from a cigarette billowing around him.
“I was just…” I start, but how am I to finish that?
Tobias slowly twists to face me, and there it is again, that breathless feeling, as though the simple touch of his gaze could pause time itself.
The little voice inside my head whispers for me to run once again. I’m being ridiculous. It’s just nerves, which is why I take a breath and make my way across the patio. Tobias nudges the man next to him and I’m vaguely aware of him turning around, but my attention is unfailingly fixed on Tobias. I couldn’t tear it away if I tried. Was he so beautiful the first time I met him? I recall him being intimidating and arrogant, and maybe that is how I missed the edge of danger that seems to cling to him. Adrenaline buzzes through my body like an electric current as I continue across the rooftop, and when I stop in front of the two men, I believe it may be possible to drown within the tension brooding between them.
“Ms. Taylor,” Tobias says, motioning toward the stranger beside him. “This is Preston Lucas, my business associate.”
My attention finally turns to the man now smiling at me. Preston is the day to Tobias’s night, but the two of them together pack a real punch in both looks and sheer presence. I take in his blond hair tied in a neat bun, his cold blue eyes, and that unsettling feeling churns to life the same way it did the other day. I've seen him before. The other day. On the train. It must simply be a coincidence…
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Lucas.” I hold out my hand and he takes it. His smile widens and spreads across his face just before he yanks me toward him.
“Ella.” His lips brush my cheek as his arm creeps around my waist. Panic rises in my chest as I pull away from his touch. “She's perfect, Tobias.” A low, throaty chuckle slips from his lips. “Simply perfect.”
This isn’t an interview for a job. That I am now one-hundred percent certain of. I take a step back, knowing there’s nowhere for me to go unless I feel like jumping.
“Take a seat, Ms. Taylor.” Tobias motions to the table behind me.
My gaze goes back to the elevator, to the lack of buttons, then it sweeps around the rooftop looking for an emergency exit. Nothing. There is nothing up here aside from the table and chairs and the bucket of champagne. The hum of traffic some thirty-odd floors down whirls around my spinning head. I don’t even realize I’m moving toward the table until I take a seat. But what else am I to do at this point? I hate that I was so desperate for a job that I didn’t find the strange evening invitation to a strange location from a man I don’t know alarming.
The two men shift away from the ledge, moving toward me like predators stalking prey. And as they approach, morbid thoughts dance through my mind. I wonder how long it will be before my body is found, how sad the headlines will be when my body goes unclaimed. I wonder if Sawyer will end up being the one who finally identifies me, and then I debate whether he’ll even care.
My pulse goes into overdrive when the men take a seat on either side of me. Preston removes the Champagne from the bucket, and I stare straight ahead at the skyline. The cork pops, and I jump.
“Relax, Ella,” Tobias sweeps a hand over my arm. “We don’t intend to hurt you.”
Intend. Not we aren’t going to hurt you. We don’t intend to means there’s a possibility…
I’m passed a flute of champagne, and when I take it, I notice I'm visibly shaking.
“I told you I have a proposition for you, but first you must answer a question,” Tobias says, but I don’t look at him. Instead, I keep looking at the buildings in the distance, in denial. “What would you be willing to do for a million dollars? Or better yet...” Tobias takes my chin in his hand and forces me to look at him. “What would you not do?” On a sinister smirk, he drops his hand and glances to the other side of me.
“Would you kill someone?” The heat of his Preston’s breath is on my neck.
Tobias laughs and my gaze snaps to him. “So quick to answer that question.” He lifts his champagne to his lips. “Maybe murder is a bit extreme, even for a million dollars, but would you submit yourself? Mind. Body. Soul.”
I glance at the elevator again, each breath becoming harder as I mentally acknowledge that I am indeed trapped. “Submit…” I whisper.
“Complete subservience,” he clarifies.
Is this what they want? To take me. Keep me? “Like a slave?” My skin crawls when I utter that word.
Tobias drags a thumb across my lip. “Slave rather implies doing something distasteful, doesn't it?”
Preston's hand glides over my shoulder, along my throat, until he’s cupping my jaw and turning my face toward him. “It does. Slavery is to be debased and degraded. Submission is to be protected, coveted, revered...” His gaze drifts to my chest. “Cherished. Trust me, sweetheart, you'll like it—for the most part.”
“One million dollars in exchange for one week of your time,” Tobias says.
My time as their sex toy. “And if I refuse?”
“Then you may leave.”
I don’t fully believe him, but I push to my feet anyway. “No amount of money is worth my dignity.”
“Dignity?” Tobias shakes his head. “And where exactly will your dignity be when you're living on the street? We offer you a salvation not many are afforded. One million dollars for a mere seven days of your pathetic life.”
My feet root to the spot. How does he know I’m about to be evicted?
“Sweet Ella,” Preston murmurs as he stands and moves behind me. His hand lands on my shoulder, the heat of his palm searing through me. “We know you have no money. No prospects. We know you're about to lose your apartment...”
“You have no family, no one to fall back on,” Tobias adds.
“So tragic what happened to your parents, Ella. And the drunk driver didn’t even get charged.”
I shake my head, unable to form words. How do they know all these details about my life? “I...”
“No boyfriend. No job,” Tobias inspects the cuff of his jacket as though the entire notion of my pitiful existence bores him. “Ella, you've got nothing.” Then his gaze flicks to mine. “But you are very beautiful.”
“Nothing to lose, but everything to gain.” Preston's fingers sweep back and forth across the nape of my neck. I have to question why the hell I’m allowing him to touch me, but I have no answer. Instead, I tell myself that it’s simply self-preservation. “You could be a modern-day Cinderella. All you have to do is sign your name.”
“You leave, and in a matter of weeks, you’ll be destitute. You stay and in a matter of days…” Tobias pulls a folded piece of paper from his pocket, opens it, then slides it across the table. “In a matter of days, you could save yourself.”
I pick the paper up, carefully reading over the first few lines. I don't know what I'm expecting, but it isn't this.
The lump sum of one million dollars will be paid (taking into consideration the rules and stipulation of the game) upon completion of this seven-day legal and binding agreement.
Rules aligned within the contract, not to be broken, are as follows:
1) Never leave 2) Never ask questions 3) Never speak of this 4) Never develop feelings 5) Always submit
“What is this?” I ask even though it's right there in black and white.
“A game,” Tobias says.
“I want you, Ella.”
Even though it shouldn't, even though he’s not right in the head, those three little words make me weak. He said it with such confidence, as though he knows he will have me.
Preston passes me a pen. “It’s a contract to play.”
I skim over the first few sentences again. A game? One where I can’t leave. I can’t ask questions. And the prize is a million dollars. Seven figures for seven days. This would solve my problems. It could give me a new start. “What kind of game?”
“Whatever kind we want it to be,” Preston says.
“There’s no explanation as to what the rules even apply to. How can you play a game if you don't know what you're playing?”
A gust of wind howls across the patio. “All you need to know, sweet Ella, are the rules, and that nothing will be unpleasant for you.” His gaze drops to my lips and my pulse picks up. “Not in the slightest.”
This is utterly insane. Shaking my head, I push the contract to the side. Tobias moves around me. His fingertips brush the back of my neck. “Do you want me? Look at Preston. Do you want him?” Tobias’s lips brush my ear, and the sensation winds my entire body tight. “Don’t worry, little lamb.” He grabs a handful of my hair and tugs my head back. “It’ll be our dirty little secret.”
Morally, I know this is wrong, I know I shouldn't even be contemplating this. But I am. I am because they are right. I have nothing to lose. I have nothing, but at this very moment, I feel as though these two men could give me something. I find myself leaning into him until the tension is wound so tight the air crackles with it. Our lips are nearly touching when his grip tightens in my hair and something sparks in his eyes. “Did I ask you to kiss me?” He lets go of my hair and when he steps away, anger and shame wash over me.
If I sign, I have a feeling this will be my life for the next seven days. And while I know that, I keep seeing the pile of bills on my counter, the eviction notice, the empty place where Sawyer’s picture once hung. The mounting stress in my chest grows. Where will I be in seven days if I walk away from them right now? On the street...In a shelter? And where will I be in seven days if I stay? And that is the question I can’t ignore. Inhaling, I close my eyes for the briefest moment. “Explain the game to me.”
“It’s very simple,” Preston says. “Each time you break a rule, you receive a strike. After four strikes, you forfeit the game and leave with nothing.” His lips curl into a devious smirk.
Nothing if I break the rules four times. One million if I win…. “And how do you win?”
Tobias smiles before resting against the table. “That's the beauty of it, you won't know until the end.”
“That seems a little unfair.”
“Life isn’t fair. What do you have to lose, Ella?”
And that’s just it. I have nothing to lose—except maybe my life. But for whatever reason, I don't believe that is what they want. They want a game. A form of morbid entertainment, and I need the money.
Preston’s fingers lightly trail along my arm as I watch Tobias study me. With each passing second, my pulse drives higher and higher. I’m not sure if it’s fear, anxiety, or something else entirely. “Seven days? That’s it?” I ask. God, I’m really going to do this.
“Seven days,” Tobias says.
“And you won’t hurt me?”
Preston lifts my hand and kisses my knuckles. “Never.”
“And will it be…sexual?”
“Oh, little lamb.” Tobias throws his head back on a dark laugh. “Definitely.” His heated gaze has my stomach clenching. As wrong as it is, I think I want that. Who wouldn’t? They’re gorgeous, beautiful strangers. And desire rarely requires familiarity.
My gaze drifts between them. Am I going to whore myself to these two men for a million dollars? It sounds stupid when I put it like that. Surely there’s plenty of people who would… “I'll have to think about it.”
“I'll give you until you come,” Tobias says.
He moves forward and grabs my chin. “Kiss me.”
Of course, I could refuse, but if I even think I may sign that contract... I lean in and cautiously press my lips to his. For a moment, he makes no move to touch me or reciprocate the kiss, and I feel stupid. Just as I'm about to pull away, his hand slams around my jaw, his fingers gripping with such force my breath hitches. The kiss deepens long enough that I lose myself in it, and then he pulls away. Without warning, he turns me and pins me face-down by the back of my neck over the table. A tremor of fear works through me until the slow caress of Tobias's fingers travels up my thigh, lifting my skirt. Heat builds between my legs when he works my thong down.
“Now, spread your legs."
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This is a VERY dark book and has many, many triggers--all of which lend to the story. Trigger include but are not limited to: Dubious consent, emotional and psychological abuse, drug addiction, suicide, mental health issues, rape, and murder.
Reader discretion is advised.