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Den of Iniquity Ch. 10

"Greetings, greetings. Welcome to the Domina Flagrante," Chantelle gushed. She was a study in confidence, kissing cheeks and offering her hand to complete strangers. Whether they thought it was appropriate or not, many leaned down to kiss the back of it. Perhaps they thought it was some kind of pantomime, or maybe they just couldn't help themselves. Between her sense of theatre and her outrageous outfit, she commanded attention. The only thing missing was a crop in her hand.

We got into a smooth technique, and everyone wanted to talk to her. She was in her element, gracing people with disarming humour and laughing heartily with their sometimes less than clever ripostes. She made everyone feel welcome, and there were a lot of them. More and more couples and small groups filed by. A bit of a bottleneck developed, but no one seemed to mind and they chatted amongst themselves while waiting. Beside me, Annie was quiet, nodding and saying hello to those she knew, but mostly just holding my upper arm and leaning against the outside of my shoulder as I introduced people to Chantelle. Smiling down at her in a quiet moment, I wondered if she would rather be mingling in the salon, so I asked, "Are you all right, pet?"

With a level of devotion that delighted me, she returned my smile and whispered, "I'm fine, Sir. Dreamy even." I winked and kissed her forehead before turning back to shake hands with more new arrivals.

Some of the fashion choices made by the guests had me fascinated. People who I normally saw wearing anything from Armani to polyester blends purchased off the rack had turned up in leather jackets, leather skirts and even a leather bustier had been dusted off for the occasion. Some of the office girls had worn nice decorative collars, provided by Annie I was later to learn, while a few of the more adventurous girls wore sexy, revealing outfits. One girl from marketing wore a white leather halter-top that showed a surprising amount of cleavage. Annie elbowed me in the ribs when I seemed to pay her too much attention. I just laughed and moved on to the next guests.

Most of the men were suited up, but quite a few of them came 'smart casual.' One particular lawyer, Alan Teasedale, who happened to have helped me in the past with law exams, surprised me by arriving in jeans and a t-shirt. Led by his tittering wife at the end of a leash, he blushed strongly as soon as Chantelle noticed them. "How marvellous of you to get into the spirit of things!" she said enthusiastically, hugging his wife, Mandy, and grinning at Alan.

Alan piped up from behind his wife's shoulder, "Um, it's a fantasy. It's all right, isn't it? We just thought..."

Chantelle glared at him like he was in trouble and his voice trailed off. His wife covered her mouth, barely managing to contain another giggle. Chantelle smiled hugely then winked at her, then leaned into her ear and whispered something I couldn't hear. The wife straightened her face and turned around to her husband and jerked his leash saying, "The Mistress was talking to me, you naughty boy!"

I almost cracked up as Alan blushed even more furiously, his hands covering his crotch. Mandy turned back to Chantelle, rolling her eyes. Then, like two schoolgirls, they broke up in unrestrained giggling. "I think I'm going to like this!" Mandy squealed, grinning from ear to ear.

Soon enough, the salon filled to overflowing. Lawyers were notoriously late unless free alcohol was on offer, which of course there was, meaning the vast majority were on time. Chantelle greeted almost every guest individually, apart from the few less patient ones who strolled right past, anxious to calm their nerves with their first drink.

"Georgia!" Annie cried gleefully, breaking from me and hugging her friend from work.

"Hi, Annie!" Georgia replied, returning the hug before turning her attention to Chantelle and I. "This is gonna be fun," she drawled.

"Welcome Georgia," I said. "This is Chantelle. She's our hostess." Chantelle shook Georgia's hand and welcomed her, reaching up on tiptoes to kiss her cheek. I smiled at Annie and winked.

"Can I go and have a drink with Georgia, please Sir?"

"Of course you can. Go have fun."

Annie and Georgia rushed off arm in arm and I barely overheard Georgia exclaiming, "Sir? Pet?" as they made their way to the bar. I chuckled to myself and shook my head.

"Having fun, Roger?"

"A ball, Chantelle," I said, grinning.

Finally the partners and their wives arrived with a large entourage of hangers-on in tow. Included in this group were a number of high-powered lawyers and a few of our clients. The partners appeared to be arguing, but pointedly ceased as they approached the front of the line. The others, including Gardner's right hand man, Saul Houston, followed closely behind. I had the distinct impression I was on a stage as the group gathered around us. "It is my great pleasure to introduce you all to the Mistress of this fine establishment, Chantelle," I announced, bowing and taking a step backwards as they gathered around her.

She proceeded to welcome them to the Domina Flagrante with a flourish, giving a quick history of the building and describing the layout, explaining that any roped-off areas were to be avoided. She hoped the night would be all they hoped it would be, and in return they thanked her heartily for her hospitality.

Gardner turned his attention to me as he was filing past. "Looks like you've done a fine job, Roger. You'll go far. I'm glad to see my money is being spent well," he said, chuckling.

I guided the parties inside salon and pointed in the direction of the bar. "Open bar all night, Sir. I hope you all have a wonderful time."

"Very good," he said, beckoning those around him to follow. Hammerstein hurried past me with a wink and their wives giggled as they followed. I was wondering what that was about when Chantelle leaned into my ear.

"I hate lawyers," she said, grinning.

"Oh, stop it," I said softly. Remembering she had Hammerstein's phone number in her Rolodex, I tried to keep the knowledge from crossing my face. But I needn't have worried. Our next arrivals were an adequate distraction.

"Alex, how nice to see you," Chantelle said, a little too effusively.

I recognised Alex O'Donohue, the senatorial candidate, at once, and shook his offered hand firmly. "Welcome, Alex. It's good of you to come."

"Always up for a shindig, Roger. Hello Chantelle, I don't believe you've met my wife, Marie." Alex pushed her forward, holding her by the shoulders. She was a mousy brunette with a strangely pushed-up nose and I wondered if she'd had plastic surgery. "She's my slave tonight. Aren't you, dear?" he asked, leaning down and kissing her ear.

She sighed before answering. "Yes, Alex, I'm your slave. Can I please have a drink now?"

"In a minute. Say hello to the nice Mistress, first."

Chantelle held out her hand in greeting and Marie shook it gently while Alex and I watched the exchange. Marie appeared a little flustered, then smiled. She brought the back of Chantelle's hand to her mouth and kissed it lightly. Chantelle nodded and Alex gaped. He steered his wife past us into the salon muttering something to her, and Chantelle turned to me and winked. I didn't know what it was about her. She was amazing. Figuring almost all of the guests had arrived, I thought it was time for a drink and checked my watch. It was eight forty-three.

"Is that most of them?" Chantelle asked.

"Yes, except..." I almost said, 'Josephine and Sylvia, ' but I stopped myself. Maybe they weren't coming? Thankfully at that moment my boss Mike Constanti and his wife, Emma, came through the front door and saved me from mentioning the missing duo. "Mike!" I cried with relief, as Jonathan took their coats.

"Roger! Hello! Is this the Mistress? I mean... Sorry! Chantelle isn't it? I'm Mike. I love it! It's perfect! So edgy, Roger! So edgy!" He shook Chantelle's hand much too hard and I got the same treatment. His wife poked him in the ribs with her elbow and all three of us turned our attention to her. She wore a nice, simple, black cocktail dress with a studded, black dog collar around her neck. But even more surprising was the fluorescent orange ball-gag in her mouth. Still, she tried to smile sweetly as we all looked at her. Mike turned back to us, grinning. "You know my wife, Emma, don't you, Roger?" I nodded. "She's not allowed to talk unless I let her. She was a bad girl before," he said, and winked.

Barely containing a giggle, Chantelle said, "I see your party has already started!"

I took Emma's hands in mine. "I hope you have a wonderful night," I said softly, before turning to my boss. "Be gentle, Mike."

He seemed to understand and nodded slowly. "Good advice, Roger."

"All right then," I said after a short but awkward moment. "I need a drink!"

"Wonderful idea!" Chantelle said, as she slipped her arm through mine. "Let's find Annie, too."

"C'mon Em," Mike said jovially. "I'll let you have one drink, darling. Then you have to put that gag thing right back on." Emma rolled her eyes and we all laughed together.

Once inside, Mike and Emma drifted into the crowd and Chantelle was sidetracked by some of the guests. I kissed her cheek and went in search of Annie. A minute later I found her sitting with Georgia at one of the tables near the bar, giggling and sipping drinks through straws. Annie looked up and saw me, a huge grin spreading across her face. As I strode toward her, she put down her drink and while Georgia watched agape, she leapt to her feet and slipped her arms around my neck. I let her kiss my cheek softly while grinning at Georgia.

Annie broke her kiss and our eyes locked. "I missed you, Sir," she whispered, before we both turned to Georgia and shrugged.

"Ohhh... you two! Such kidders!" Georgia squealed.

Annie laughed and shook her head, still hanging from my neck. "You don't know the half of it!"

At that moment, Chantelle tapped a knife against a glass. She was standing on a footstool behind the bar. "If I can have everyone's attention, please!" A few quiet murmurs were heard as heads turned in her direction and the salon became quiet. She proceeded to welcome everyone again, and hoped they enjoyed their evening. She then went on to assure them that everything they saw that night would be 'safe, sane and consensual'. "All of the scenes you are about to witness are for your benefit, interest, and entertainment. No one is being coerced or forced. If you have any questions, you are welcome to ask the person in the dominant position. Please allow the submissive to remain in submissive mode by not interrupting his or her train of thought. Also, if you have any particular concerns or requests, please see either Roger or myself, and we will see to it that your evening is as magical as we hope it can be. Also, the salon is a 'safe area'. Therefore, anyone wishing to escape the sights and sounds of the party may come back here, to relax and take a break. If there are no questions, you may all follow me into the main hall." Chantelle swept her eyes over the sea of smiling, expectant faces. No one made a sound. "Okay then." She stepped down from the footstool and walked around the bar to join Annie, Georgia and me. "Oooo, Roger. What was this gorgeous little creature's name again?" Chantelle asked teasingly, winking at Georgia.

I found her choice of words amusing, as Georgia was a good eight inches taller than her. Chuckling, I introduced them again and Chantelle encouraged Georgia to take one of her arms, while I took the other. With Annie doing the same on my other side, we led the bubbling throng into the main hall. I felt a sense of dé·jà vu as we marched out of the salon toward the main hall. With a flourish, Chantelle opened the doors and pulsing house music spilled into the filled hallway, mixed with our heartbeats. As we walked through the doors, I leaned down and asked Chantelle, "Where's Adrian?"

She slipped her arm from mine and pointed to two small windows high off the ground at the back of the hall. "Control Room!"

I was soon distracted. "This looks amazing, Chantelle!"

Gone were all the dining tables from the other night. Instead there were about fifty bar-style settings of black tables with tall cushioned stools placed around them. Where the four huge pillars stood, circular bars had been wheeled into place, and locked together, not unlike a cuff around an ankle. Halfway from the floor to the billowing black netting that camouflaged the ceiling, caged platforms jutted out from the columns, on which chained and hooded 'slaves' writhed to the beat. It reminded me of the movies from the sixties with 'go-go girls'. Guests flooded in behind us Annie screamed, "Woohooo! Check it out!"

I could hardly believe my eyes. Just then, spotlights lit up two hanging cages high above either end of the stage, containing a guy in one and the girl in the other, both of whom wore hoods and were dancing their respective asses off. Continuing to scan the room, I noticed a number of couples, dominant and submissive, preparing for the festivities.

Smiling and shaking hands with guests all over again, we made our way in the direction of the stage with Chantelle leading. On the way there, we passed a Mistress handcuffing her hooded female submissive in preparation for a spanking bench session. I noticed there were a number of different implements at the Mistress' disposal and I thought I might like to watch a little later. I leaned into Chantelle's ear. "I love the hoods!"

"All the subs are wearing them. Josephine and I thought it would look cool." Chantelle directed us to one of the two larger tables near to the stage and we began talking as the hall filled around us. The flow of adrenaline seemed to keep us from sitting.

While holding Annie's hand, I quickly spoke to Chantelle. "Have you seen her yet?"

"Who?"

"Josephine!"

"Not yet. But she's around somewhere. Jonathan gave me the nod on the way in."

"Okay," I said, trying to hide my concern. I glanced around the hall again, trying to find something to distract me from my thoughts. Then I saw it. "I love that," I said, pointing.

Chantelle swung around to follow my finger. In the middle of the dance floor stood a wooden structure, standing alone in a spotlight just in front of the stage. "Isn't it a beauty? It's a pillory like the one in the training room, only it's much more detailed and has a history. And it's huge! I brought it up from downstairs for a treat. It's set up so people can play in it. Let's take a look!" Chantelle grabbed my other hand and I grinned at Annie, shrugging as I was dragged away.

In moments we had crossed the dance floor and were standing on either side of the pillory, admiring it. I ran my hand over the horizontal stocks where the neck and wrists are locked in place, then down the wooden post holding it up off the ground. It appeared to be carved and very old.

"The post is original, but the stocks and the base were copied from drawings."

"It's very impressive."

"It's just for show. A modern set of stocks is much more convenient." We looked at each other seriously, then burst into laughter. "Come on!" she said, taking my hand again and leading me back to our table. Glancing over my shoulder, I noted the stage itself remained in darkness and I briefly wondered what surprises it might hold.

Before long, conversations were in full swing and the guests were refreshing drinks and mingling. Small crowds of five or six gathered around most of the exhibits, while some had whole crowds drawn to them. The way Chantelle had set up the hall, it felt quite crowded even though it was less than half full. It was only a little while later that I noticed the music was louder and couples had begun filling the dance floor in front of us. I was really pleased. Though I felt like I'd done little to deserve it, the party was well on its way to being a success, and I was feeling pretty proud of myself.

"This is such fun!" Chantelle shrieked. "We have to do something like this more often! Like a 'Newbies' night or something!" Georgia looked at her blankly and Chantelle proceeded to explain the term to her.

"Sir?" asked Annie, sensing an opportunity.

"Yes, pet?" She beckoned for me to lean down so she could speak privately. She slid her hand onto my thigh at the same time. I smiled and leaned my ear down to her. "Can I be naughty?" she asked, whispering. "I mean good-naughty, not bad-naughty" Kissing my neck, she caressed higher on my thigh. I could feel my cock stiffening.

"Go on," I said, wondering what she had on her mind.

Her warm lips brushed against my ear. "I really want to suck your cock, Sir," she whimpered, breathing hotly.

"Jesus," I said under my breath, eyes skittering and hoping her words hadn't been overheard. Her fingers curled around my hardening cock and I swallowed.

"Mmmmm... I want to suck it so bad," she said softly against my ear. "I want to taste you and feel you. Can I? Please, Sir? Can I?"

"A... Annie..." I protested, without conviction. She slowly scraped her nails up the length of my cock, then trailed them gently back down. Then she did it again. "Ohhh..." I gasped through clenched teeth. Suddenly remembering where we were, I gathered my control, whispering hoarsely, "Annie... Jesus... you better... I mean... Stop, pet... please!"

No one could see what she was doing. But I was sure the look on my face would have given me away. I glanced around the table again. Chantelle was deep in conversation with Georgia, but she was looking right at me, smirking. All I could do was roll my eyes. Mike and Emma were talking and pointing in different directions, so they hadn't noticed. The other stools were empty, I guessed for Claudio and Josephine.

"Mmmmm... it's so hot and hard," Annie breathed, tightening her grip. "Are you sure you want me to stop, Sir?"

Goosebumps broke out on my arms. God, I wanted her so badly. What was I thinking? If I wasn't careful I was going to cum in my pants! Gripping her wrist, I lifted her teasing fingers from my cock and placed them back in her lap. I reached up and took her chin gently in my hand, looking deeply into those beautiful pale blue eyes. "Later," I said firmly.

She licked her lips. "Promise?" she asked.

I shook my head in wonder. "You gotta be kidding, pet. Sure I promise."

"Yayyy!" she cheered and kissed my mouth, eyes dancing. She bounced in her chair a couple of times, then looked over the growing crowd on the dance floor. "Can we dance, Sir?"

"Ah... not right now, Annie." I am not a good dancer.

She giggled and blushed. "Is it okay if I dance with Georgia?"

"Sure it is, pet. Go on. I should mingle once the um... swelling goes down," I winked. After thanking me with another kiss, she walked around the table and asked Chantelle if she and Georgia could dance. Chantelle said 'sure', and Georgia gave an apology before taking Annie's hand. They giggled together as they made their way to the front of the stage and began dancing near the pillory under a kaleidoscope of flashing, coloured lights. Thankfully the 'swelling' did go down, though my skin still tingled with anticipation.

Chantelle was now in an animated conversation with Mike and Emma, and I decided to do my host routine. I leaned into their conversation. "Excuse me for interrupting. I'm just going to see the sights!" Chantelle smiled and Mike and Emma nodded. I took a glass of champagne from a waiter's tray and began to make my way in a big circle around the hall.

As I ambled and sipped my drink, I took a deep breath and relaxed. Everything was fine. In fact, my cheeks were starting to hurt from smiling so much, and my back was sore from all the slapping it was getting. "Great party, Roger!"

"Stunning buddy, just stunning."

"Boy have I got a few ideas from this!"

"Are you into thisssstuff, Roger?" a female voice slurred from behind me. I turned and looked into Sylvia's eyes. She was already drunk. "I bet you have sssadistic orgies with all these trashy sssluts."

She stumbled as I took her by the elbow, leading her out of earshot of other guests. I righted her and spoke quietly. "Sylvia, whether I am 'into this stuff' or not, is none of your business. I hope you're not going to make a scene." I had a mind to be a whole lot meaner, but I controlled myself.

She pulled her elbow out of my hand. "Of course not! So I've had a few drrrinks... So what? I'm not drrrrunk!"

"Where's Josephine?" I asked, changing the subject.

She finished her champagne and waved one arm around. "I don't know. I don't care. Where's the ladiesrrroom?"

I pointed in the direction of the exit doors wishing she'd exit. "Through there." She made a beeline for the restrooms without another word. I'd have to keep an eye on her, I thought, as I watched her walk away. Shaking my head, I also thought it was a real shame she was involved in all this. I was concerned about where her head was at, and hoped she could behave herself. Wandering again, I found myself more carefully scanning the faces of the milling crowd, trying to spot Josephine. The music seemed even louder.

The various 'scenes' being played out were a hit, with large gatherings around them looking on in wonder, and I was soon distracted from my thoughts. I stopped by one such scene, where a hooded, scantily clad young submissive girl was in the process of being tied to a 'horse'. So-called because of its similarity in shape to a sawhorse, the girl had straddled it, having her slender ankles tied with thick rope to a leg on either side of the padded contraption. Entranced, I watched as another thick rope was wound up her wrists, right up to her elbows. Others in the growing audience watched agape as her body bowed and her breasts thrust forward against her tight black crop top. A light blue ball-gag was pressed gently into her smiling, lipsticked mouth before being buckled behind her head. Next a blindfold came over her darting, mischievous eyes, and the dominant stood back and smiled, satisfied with the look.

A few in the audience began clapping and I found myself joining them. Grins broke out amongst those watching as the dominant produced a long peacock feather and began teasing the helpless submissive, who appeared to be writhing to the beat. Mike slapped my back. "This is fantastic, Roger. I can't believe it!"

"Hi again, Mike," I said, smiling and shaking his hand once more. His wife was among those staring at the sight of the tied girl being teased with the feather. "I'm glad you're having fun!"

"Any chance of getting my girl on there?" he asked, only half joking and elbowing me with glee. Emma heard him, shook her head and blushed. I took another look at the scene and its audience, and chuckled.

"Maybe it would be more fun at home!" I replied with a wink.

Mike's eyes got as big as saucers as he considered the possibilities. Emma blushed scarlet and waved her finger at her husband and we all cracked up. Mike was right. This was great! We clinked champagne glasses and I told them I'd catch up with them and turned to go, almost running headlong into a hooded submissive girl. I frowned as she pushed past, almost knocking the glass from my hand.

"Oh, sorry, Sir," she mumbled, head down and continuing on her way. I didn't get the chance to admonish her. She was in a hurry. Maybe she needed to pee.

I shrugged and continued on, walking around the hall with a permanent smile plastered across my face. I shook hands and kissed cheeks and listened to gasps and cries of "No way!" as the various scenes were played out and audiences were amazed.

The music pulsed louder and I stopped to watch a rather large, very good-looking Mistress flogging a male sub across his ass. She was being pretty gentle. He was a very muscular man and stretched as he was across a spanking bench, wearing a black leather hood and black Lycra gym shorts, squeals of delight came from some of the women in the crowd. "Harder! Harder!" one laughed. The Mistress obliged, intensifying the strikes.

"What a beautiful butt!" another woman cried.

"Jeez, that's gotta hurt," mumbled a male voice nearby. I slipped to the front of the gathering and the Mistress saw me coming and paused for a moment. Leaning into her ear, I whispered, "Take it easy."

She arched a brow for the benefit of her audience then broke into a big grin. "Don't worry, Roger. Chantelle warned me." I turned back to the crowd who were all looking at me like I was spoiling their fun. Shaking my head and smiling, I held up my hands in defeat and made my way back through the baying crowd to continue mingling.

At the back of the hall I came across another scene where a vaguely familiar, bare-chested dominant was standing and chatting with a small number of onlookers. He picked up a small steel contraption and explained how a set of stocks worked. I watched and listened over a secretary's shoulder as he explained how a sub kneeled and bent down with her forehead on the ground, then reached back to allow both her ankles and wrists to be locked into the hinged, metal stocks, with her ass in the air. He said he would then be demonstrating a paddling, just as soon as the submissive assigned to him returned from the bathroom. Ah, 'the sub in a rush', I thought to myself.

"With that?" said a concerned female voice, pointing to the paddle he had just put down. "God that must hurt!"

"No, no. It won't hurt too much," the dominant chuckled, picking up the paddle again and turning it in his hands. Deciding I wanted to see how someone else would go about a paddling, I promised myself I would return later and headed around toward the exits, checking out the rest of the exhibits.

As I passed the open doors leading out, I saw Claudio making like a traffic policeman. He was directing waiters and waitresses carrying platters to all points of the hall. He noticed me and gave a few more instructions before heading over. "How are things, Roger?"

"Great, I think. You?"

"Excellent. Once all this finger food is out, my job will be finished and I'll be able to relax and join you."

"Have you seen Josephine yet?"

"No, but I saw her sister."

"Me too."

"She won't be far away, I can assure you. Don't worry, Roger. Chantelle has everything under control."

I looked out across the crowd. "If you say so."

Claudio chuckled. "It's a great party, Roger. Relax!" I got yet another slap on the back before he laughed again and turned on his heel.

Before long, I found myself back at our table, chatting with Chantelle and looking through the dancing bodies for a glimpse of Annie. Chantelle informed me they had been back to the table and were now dancing for the second time. "The music is good. Not really my style though," she added.

I smiled at her watching the dancers. "It's a wonderful night, Chantelle. I can't thank you enough. For everything."

She turned to me and smiled back. "Roger, dear boy, you are most welcome."

I sensed a moment. "What's Josephine's story?" I asked. "Is everything okay?"

"She was just a little late. Apparently she and her damned sister got a bit drunk... and Adrian too. I'm glad all 'he' has to do is operate the lights and music. Fortunately he knows that stuff like the back of his hand."

"Where's Josephine now?"

"Relax Roger. She's taking a paddling at the back of the hall. It'll do her good. She's been a pain in the ass lately. And she wasn't too pleased when I told her she was to be paddled instead of flogged. But don't worry. Johnson will go easy on her."

"Johnson? The bartender?" I thought I recognised him.

"Didn't you think a bartender could be a dominant, Roger?"

"Um, I just meant..."

She winked and said, "I'm teasing." I sighed and shrugged. The moment had clearly passed when she said, "Honestly Roger, everything's under control. No need to be concerned."

"Okay. If you say so."

"Oh, I just remembered something! Adrian asked to speak with you urgently, though I chastised him for making it sound so important. Anyway, when you get a moment, you better go see him. Jonathan will show you the entrance to the control room. I'm sure Adrian just wants to break up the boredom up there."

I glanced up at the two windows. "I'll go and see him now, just in case," I said.

"Suit yourself. I'll be witnessing Josephine getting her paddling. Should be fun!" I watched as she bounced away, stopping and chatting at the various tables, ensuring people were enjoying the food and entertainment. I shook my head for about the tenth time that night and smiled. On the dance floor, Annie and Georgia were occasionally visible. I decided to head to the control room.

On the way to the exit doors I passed a submissive tightly tied in a contraption not unlike a rectangular prism of thin, tubular steel. A dominant was alternating between using a flogger in one hand and a vibrator in the other. She writhed as the vibrator skimmed over her skin, down her arms and up the insides of her thighs. Her eyes were closed and a contented smile played around her full lips. Then as the dominant changed tactics and began to flog her, small shudders ran through her body each time the tails gently lashed her skin, causing her long blonde hair to shimmer under the spotlight. He concentrated mainly on her thighs and stomach. Mesmerised, I watched as he changed back to the vibrator and she began writhing again. It was an erotic scene, and I was pleased to note it wasn't too lurid.

Then I remembered what I was doing and reluctantly turned away, heading out through the doors to find Jonathan. He was relaxing and talking on the phone to someone, but hung up as I approached. "Hello, Sir. Is there something I can help you with?"

"Hi, Jonathan. Yes, please. You can show me how to get to the control room."

"Certainly, Sir. Right this way." I followed Jonathan to a door I hadn't noticed before. We paused as he found the key. "Adrian keeps calling down to see if you are on your way, Sir. May I alert him?"

"I'll beat you to it, won't I?"

"It's two and a half stories of circular stairway, Sir."

"Okay. Sure. I don't mind."

"Thank you, Sir." He found the right key and opened the door. "All the way to the top, Sir. Mind your step. It's dark once I close the door."

"Thanks, Jonathan." With a hooked arm swinging around the central pillar, I bounded up the stairs, two at a time. I wanted to see if I could beat Jonathan's phone call. I took a break when I was almost at the top. As a child, I had a circular staircase that led to my loft. Right at that moment I realised I wasn't as young as I used to be. Gasping for breath and hunched over, I was leaning with my hands on the tops of my thighs, just above my knees and feeling faint. I needed to get to the gym.

The music in the stairwell suddenly went quiet. The pulsing beat from the hall could still be heard through the walls. A door opened above me and a column of light illuminated the staircase. "Sir? Roger?"

"I'm here, Adrian. Just taking a breather," I said, from directly below his feet. I walked up the remaining steps and Adrian held the door open for me.

"Thank goodness you're here, Sir. I need to talk to you."

"Chantelle said you were drunk. You don't seem drunk."

"Just a little tipsy, Sir. I've been dancing it off up here."

I smiled. "Okay. What's all this about then?"

"I need about five minutes, Sir. Do you have time?"

"You don't actually think I'm going to leave and come back up those bloody steps all over again, do you?"

Adrian chuckled. "No, Sir. I'll be quick. Please, come in and take a seat." I looked around at the small room with various notes stuck to one wall and a large bank of compact disks along another. A single chair was half turned around in front of a control panel covered in switches and blinking lights. Above the panel were the two offset windows looking down into the main hall. Up close they were much larger than they appeared from down below.

I turned the chair the rest of the way around and sat down, facing Adrian. He paced back and forth and I waited patiently. Finally, he said, "I'm worried about Chantelle... I'm worried because, well, she's more than a boss to me. I've known her a long time..."

"You're in love with her?"

"Yes," he sighed. "I know. Which makes some of the things I've done inexcusable... I don't know what to do."

"Why don't you start from the start?"

"I'm just so worried. I mean look, I started carrying this!" Adrian pulled the revolver from behind his back, and waved it around.

"Whoa!!!"

He realised my concern immediately and placed the firearm on the control panel in front of me. "Sorry, Sir. Guns freak me out too. Not much of a hero, am I?"

I moved the cold black steel out of his reach. "Adrian, what's going on?"

"I'm in over my head, Sir. I thought I knew what I was doing. A couple of months ago, Chantelle and Josephine had a tiff. It was a quarrel about Josephine's status. According to Josephine, Chantelle made it clear that she had no long-term plans for her. Josephine was livid, muttering about her future going awry when she thought Chantelle loved her. I'm sorry, Sir. I'm rambling. Anyway, when I heard there were death threats against Chantelle, I don't know why, but I thought Josephine was behind them and I wanted to find out if I was right. So when the opportunity came along, I went along with her and stole the envelope. She said she'd given it to you, but things had changed and she wanted it back. I wish now that I never knew it was in the safe. Anyway, I thought she would trust me more if I did as she asked. I'm so sorry, Sir."

"It's all right, Adrian. Go on."

"Well, Sir, she did trust me. I don't know why, but she did! She wanted me to go with her this morning to your apartment. On the way she told me a few things that didn't make sense, things like how she was the queen and stuff... In the past I've wondered if she was okay, but now I think she is coming unglued, Sir."

"Yeah," I agreed with a sigh. "Josephine hides her craziness well."

"Her lucid periods are frequent, Sir. Which partly explains why I haven't told you, or Chantelle, what is going on. I mean, on the one hand, I really thought she was capable of injury, Sir, you know? Like, cold and calculating? But on the other hand, she just seems simply a bit manic-depressive. I started to think that causing serious injury wasn't in her, but I wasn't sure, and I needed to find out. I assumed Chantelle wouldn't believe me, without proof, and I... I wanted to be... the hero, Sir. I wanted to rescue her."

"Rescue Chantelle?"

"Yes! Oh, God... I know it's ridiculous... I know she would never want me..."

"You are a fine man, Adrian. Don't sell yourself short. So, Josephine is not behind the death threats?"

"I don't think so, Sir. I mean, I'm pretty sure she's not."

"Then what is she up to? What's so urgent?"

"We returned to Josephine's place after dropping off your toy box, and Josephine told me to wait while she went to get her sister. They returned with three bottles of champagne and we all proceeded to get drunk. Except I poured a couple of my glasses down the sink, Sir."

I looked at my watch. Where was this going?

"I'm sorry, Sir. I get carried away. I should have told you earlier."

"It's all right, Adrian. I have a few more minutes." I wanted to find Josephine and Sylvia, now.

"Yes, Sir. Anyway, while Josephine was picking up her sister, I rummaged around her apartment and found her journal."

"Her journal?"

"Yes, Sir. I was interrupted from reading it by their return, but basically it says Josephine wants to get back at Sylvia and Chantelle for rejecting her. But there are no references to physically harming either of them."

"Do you know her plan?"

"Only that she wants to ruin Sylvia's reputation. And there's a reference in there to Chantelle that says, 'it would serve the bitch right to have it all over the papers too.' And one other thing, Sir. Josephine has a spare hood."

"She's going to do it tonight, isn't she?"

"It stands to reason, Sir. Sylvia is in front of her work colleagues, and she's already drunk. I think Josephine plans to humiliate her."

"Anything else you can tell me, Adrian?"

"Just one thing, Sir." He went over by the wall and searched inside a carry bag. "Just... THIS!" He spun around holding the envelope up like a prize.

"The picture?" I asked.

"The one and only!"

"You're a saint, Adrian. We can stop all this right now!"

"I thought you'd be pleased. At least I did something right."

"You've done well, Adrian. Let's take a look." I tore open the envelope and pulled out the photo. Adrian and I pored over it in the yellow light of the control room. A girl with a hood over her head was looking into the camera and smiling like she was intoxicated. She had cum all over her face, a cock in her hand near her mouth and a cock up her ass. In the poor light, it looked like Sylvia.

"There's something wrong with this," I said, moving the photo under the hanging globe.

"Not much left to the imagination, Sir."

"You're right about that. But what I mean is... I don't know... wait a minute... the eyes! The eyes are brown, not blue!! This isn't Sylvia. This is Josephine! I gotta get back down there!"

"You'll tell Chantelle I'm sorry, won't you, Sir?"

"We'll see if it's necessary, Adrian. I have to find out where everyone is."

"Yes, Sir. Go! Go!"

"Thanks, Adrian."

"And Sir?" he asked, as I stood up, ready to leave.

"Yes, Adrian?"

"Thank you for listening, Sir."

"It's okay, Adrian. You did well." I slipped the photo into my jacket pocket. Glancing through the glassless windows at the writhing masses partying down below, I pointed and asked, "Is that what I think it is?"

"Where?"

I stepped closer to the lower window and pointed again. "Down there, right below us."

"You mean the sub struggling?" Adrian asked, joining me.

"Yes, it looks like Josephine. I think she's going to get that paddling Chantelle promised."

"It's not like she doesn't deserve it, Sir."

"Okay, I'm going to take a look. I'll talk with you later if I get a chance, Adrian."

"Yes, Sir. Thanks for listening, Sir."

"You're welcome." With that, I bounded down the stairs and found the door handle and tried it, to no avail. It was locked. I banged my fist against the door and waited for someone to open it. Just then the stairwell was filled with pounding house music. Adrian and his bloody dancing! I thought. I got the fright of my life as hands caressed the front of my pants in the inky blackness of the stairwell.

"Mmmmmm... this is perfect, isn't it, Sir?"

"Jesus, Annie. You nearly gave me a heart attack."

"Awww... I just wanted to surprise you, Sir. You could fuck my mouth and cum down my throat. It wouldn't take long would it? I really want it, Sir," she purred.

"Annie, this isn't a good time..." She kissed me hotly and snaked her fingers around my once more growing cock. I brushed them away. "Annie, I mean it!" I pounded harder on the door and it was suddenly flung open and I was greeted with a rush of light and Jonathan's smiling face.

"That was qui-"

"Not now, Jonathan!" I interrupted, turning around and grabbing Annie's hand. "Come on!" We hurried to the double doors and I straightened my jacket, composing myself.

"What's going on, Sir?" Annie asked, a worried look on her face.

"Hopefully nothing, but I have to check." I was sweating and concerned about losing my job. I took Annie's hand again and strode through the double doors, en route to the back of the hall where I had a sneaking suspicion it wasn't Josephine getting a paddling at all.

By the time we arrived, we were too late! Chantelle was leading the crowd in a count, "TEN..." SLAP!!! "NINE..." SLAP!!! "EIGHT..." SLAP!!! The hooded submissive was sensually writhing while locked in the stocks and was clearly enjoying her treatment. With her ass raised skyward, there was a clear view of the high-cut black leather shorts she wore, revealing half her ass and doing little to hide the sheen of juice running down the insides of her thighs.

It had to be Josephine. But with her ass facing us I couldn't see her face. What was I going to do? It looked like she'd already been thoroughly spanked. What could be seen of her ass and thighs was a blazing red, and she was straining upwards towards the paddle as Johnson swung it. God, if I interrupt now and it's Sylvia, Josephine's plan will have worked! If it's Josephine, I'll just look like a fool! The chant continued unabated!

"SEVEN..." SLAP!!! "SIX..." SLAP!!! "All right, STOP!" Chantelle had seen me!

"Awwww..." breathed the crowd collectively.

"Roger! Come over here! Come on don't be shy. Have a go! Paddle the girl!" Chantelle was smirking and I looked around and saw Mike and his wife, as well as Georgia and a few of the lawyers and their wives all urging me to, "Do it! Do it!"

"I will," said Claudio, pushing through the crowd to take the paddle from Johnson's hand. I hadn't noticed him in the crowd.

"Wow," said Annie beside me, "She's really gonna get it now."

"No!" I almost yelled, breaking from Annie and lunging for the paddle. "I'll do it!" The crowd cheered! "Jesus!" I muttered under my breath. Johnson handed me the paddle and I looked down at it. It was lighter than mine, but it could definitely pack a punch. I looked back at Chantelle, then at the waiting audience, then down at the red ass swaying seductively and seemingly beckoning me to paddle it.

"Go on, Roger. Five to go, and make them good ones!"

I laughed nervously and tapped my hand with the paddle, smiling uncertainly at the crowd. I needed a little time... a pantomime... a scene... time... just a little time... I had to find out... surely I couldn't paddle Sylvia. Could I? "You all want me to finish off this girl?" I asked loudly, stepping into position and patting her ass with the paddle.

"Yesssss!!" cheered the crowd over the heavy beat of the music.

"This girl?!!! This naughty girl?!!!"

"Yesssssss!!"

As I spoke, I leaned over and picked her head up by the short ponytail that protruded from the back of her hood. "This one! This one who is so clearly aroused by what is going on?" I bounced the paddle off her ass a little harder and she groaned, arching her back.

"Yesssssssssss!!!"

"This one who..." I twisted her head by the ponytail and looked into Josephine's brown eyes and she smiled at me. "... so clearly needs serious correction?"

"YESSSSSSS!!!!" I let go of her hair and her head dropped slowly to the floor. I looked around the crowd of smiling, excited faces. Most of them had never seen anything like the things they'd seen tonight. Most of them were amazed at every scene they witnessed, watching with baited breath, hearts beating fast. Many of them had never even heard of BDSM, yet they would come from this party as changed people. They would no longer be completely uninformed. They would be people with ideas, and with plans for the future. Some would file away what they witnessed, to draw on the memory at a later time, and some would forget all about it. But most would remember everything they saw and even in some small way, it would change their lives. Would it be for the better? I hoped so.

"Do iiitttt!!!!" someone yelled over the music.

But there was something wrong. Why was Josephine smiling? I pulled her back up by the hair, leaned down to her ear, and spoke so only she could hear. "Where is Sylvia?"

Her visage changed from erotic enjoyment to a wicked witch in a breath. She cackled and wiggled her ass. "Come on Roger, paddle me. I know you want to."

"Where is she?!"

"It doesn't matter now, it's too late. Get on with it and paddle my fucking ass! Your audience is waiting!"

Releasing her hair again, I stood up and darted my eyes around. Chantelle looked keen to give her a thrashing. Claudio just looked scary. Even Annie had a look of sadistic pleasure in her eye. This was too much, and could get ugly really fast. Only Johnson looked capable of paddling Josephine without losing control. I took a stride toward him and handed him the paddle. "This is a demonstration, not a punishment! Not too hard!" I stated firmly. He nodded in understanding and took the paddle from my hand. Turning back to the gathering of friends and co-workers, I noticed Chantelle's face had softened and she was smiling at me strangely, almost proudly. Stepping over to her, I took her by the shoulders and leaned into her ear. "We have to find Sylvia! She has to be around here somewhere!"

"What's going on?"

"Josephine has arranged something!"

"Oh, good God! Okay!"

Chantelle started jumping up and down in her high-heeled boots and seeing what she could see. Annie asked me what was happening and I told her. She started looking around too but it was too dark and we were going to have to split up. While the rest of the audience turned back to watch Josephine's paddling, Claudio strode over. "What's up?!" he yelled.

"We have to find Sylvia!" I yelled. "Josephine's sister! She'll be in a hood!"

His face hardened. "I'll go this way with Chantelle!"

"Okay!" I said, then turning to Annie, "C'mon, pet. We'll go down this side!" We split up and the last I saw of them was Claudio dragging Chantelle by the hand into the crowd. Annie took mine and pulled me over to the first exhibit. Immediately we moved on, realising the sub was a guy.

"C'mon!" screamed Annie. At the next scene a submissive girl was cuffed to a St. Andrew's cross and a large crowd had gathered to watch as her Master flogged her back and ass. He was in the process of unbuckling her wrist cuffs from the big 'X' and turning her around to flog her front. She too was hooded but I was pretty sure it wasn't Sylvia. "It's not her!" cried Annie, tugging at my hand. I followed her through the crowd and looked ahead and all around us.

Where were the partners? I wondered. God I hope this doesn't get out of hand! We arrived at the next scene where a sub was being very lightly caned while her Mistress explained loudly to the crowd about her enjoyment of corporal punishment, and I winced. The sub was very slim, but light-skinned and wasn't Sylvia. I sighed and we kept going. Up ahead it looked like half the hall had poured onto the dance floor and were dancing like crazy people. Soft spotlights over each table and flashing coloured lights and lasers beaming out around the dance floor lit our way.

Progress became slower and I saw Chantelle and Claudio up ahead at our table, waiting for us. "No sign of her!" shouted Chantelle over the music as we got nearer. Claudio shook his head and shrugged in agreement. Looking toward the partner's table, I noticed it was empty apart from a few people using it to rest their drinks and watch the dancing. Where was Gardner? Where was Hammerstein? Where were the clients and the wives and gossiping secretaries? Where were Alex O'Donohue and Saul Houston? And where the hell was Sylvia???

I caught the shape of Alex's head in the dancing throng and then realized with a rush what was happening.

"The pillory!!!" I yelled, pushing toward the dance floor and coming up against a brick wall of writhing bodies. As I wound my way closer I could see the top of a hooded head, poking through the middle of the stocks. Those gathered were clapping to the beat of the music and chanting, "Cane! Cane! Cane!" Gardner stood behind whoever it was, whipping a long cane through the air. The crowd was packed in, bouncing to the loud music and wide-eyed. Around me people were yelling incoherently. Saul Houston and some of the top brass from the company also looked on, pointing and laughing amongst themselves.

Emmanuel Hammerstein stepped up to the hooded person and lifted her head. It was Sylvia all right. Her blue eyes, half open and bloodshot, peered incomprehensibly into the shadows and light. She looked drugged and I wondered what Josephine had given her. I tried to push through and someone grabbed my belt and my progress was stalled. Someone was stopping me! I turned around to see who it was and Chantelle and Annie looked up at me. "What's happening?!!" Chantelle screeched.

Annie? It couldn't be! I glanced around at the faces... Who else would- Saul Houston!

"Where do you think you're going, big guy?" he sneered.

Hammerstein yelled into Sylvia's ear for everyone's benefit. "You're a stupid slut! Maybe this will teach you!"

I had to do something! Turning around and taking hold of Saul's hairy arm, I dug my fingers between the bones in his wrist as he winced. By this time Chantelle and Annie had noticed what was happening. "Get him off me!" I screamed. They both grabbed Saul's arm and I fought my way forward, grabbing the shoulders of those in front of me. Looking ahead as I strained, I saw Sylvia looking almost right at me, her head still held up by Hammerstein's hand, and the look on her face... I'll never forget it. She was scared out of her wits. He let go of her head and it flopped forward. He nodded at Gardner. This couldn't be happening! I saw a flash go off. Someone had a camera! I had to stop them!

"Nooo!!!" I yelled, pulling forward and bursting through the crowd, escaping Saul's grip. I careened into Hammerstein and knocked him on his ass. Gardner's hand was holding the pillory closed and I screamed as I worked on his fingers, "Don't do it! It wasn't her!"

He didn't seem to care. "Fuck off, Roger. It'll be fun anyway!" He hesitated only a moment then started drawing back the cane when Claudio raced up behind him. Everything happened in slow motion. Claudio grabbed Gardner's wrist in one hand and his shoulder in the other, spinning him around and twisting the cane from his grasp. I hadn't seen anything like it since my time in the Marines.

"What are you doing, Roger?!!" Hammerstein bellowed from beside me as his wife helped him to his feet. "She fucking deserves it!!!"

I pulled the photo from my jacket pocket and shoved it in his face. "Look! Brown eyes! Brown fucking eyes! It wasn't her!!!" He took the photo from me and looked at it closely.

He held it up to the crowd. "He's right!" Agitated, he looked around. I'd never seen him angrier. "Where's that fucking idiot?" Claudio pushed Gardner toward us and Hammerstein showed him the picture. "What's the meaning of this? This girl's eyes are brown!"

Gardner looked at the photo, then at the crowd, astonished. "But, wait a minute! I've been duped!"

"No, you lied to me!"

"But... but, I didn't know! I couldn't have known! It's not my fault!!!" By this time I'd succeeded in opening the stocks and guided Sylvia to a stool vacated by one of the crowd. Annie was helping her drink a glass of water someone had passed her.

"Look at her," Hammerstein wailed. "She's fucking wasted! And you said she was into this stuff! You said she loved it and she'd enjoy being caned! I knew I shouldn't have listened to..." Just then the music stopped. "Heyyy... what's going on?"

I looked at Chantelle and she was looking in the direction of the control room. She was waving her arms around, trying to get Adrian to restart the music. The flashes of strobe lights and flickers of the coloured spotlights abruptly ceased. The harsh overhead lighting caused people to squint. They started returning to their tables to retrieve handbags and belongings. I heard one mutter, "I think it's time to leave."

Annie and Chantelle were attending to an unsteady Sylvia. Suddenly, hooded and eyes blazing, Josephine burst through the crowd and ran into me, burying her shoulder in my guts. Like a house of cards I collapsed, gasping for air. Momentarily helpless, I watched as Josephine lunged at the three women, obscenities flying from her mouth.

"You fucking cunts can't do anything right!" she screamed. Annie backed away as Josephine tore at her face. Chantelle tried to grab Josephine and copped a backhander, sending her flying onto her ass across the dance floor. Coughing, I finally drew breath and struggled to my feet, but words wouldn't come. Gasping, I limped towards Josephine as she postured to punch Sylvia full in the face. Then, again in slow motion, she reached behind herself and drew a letter opener from her back pocket. I watched in a panic as Josephine inverted the blade and swung it overhead.

She's going to kill her! I thought, instantaneously throwing myself at her raised hand, grasping her wrist and falling sideways, taking her down with me. I was struggling to disarm her when to everyone's surprise a shot rang out.

BANG!!!

For a moment everything froze. Annie's hand went to her breast and with her eyes fluttering, she collapsed straight backwards. "NOOOOOOO!!!!!!" My scream was lost in dozens of others as I forgot about Josephine and lunged for Annie, somehow catching her before she hit the floor. "NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!" I cried, rolling on top of her. Exasperated I looked up to see Jonathan swinging into view, gun drawn and pointed at the ceiling.

"FREEZE!!! DON'T ANYONE MOVE!" he yelled. It was amazing how the crowd, on the verge of panic, became statues. In an eerie silence, and with less effort than it took to kill a fly, he picked up a dazed Josephine by the upper arm and shook her like a leaf. "What the FUCK is going on?" he boomed.

I looked down at Annie. She was coughing and coming awake. "Oh, My God! You're all right!"

"Y... yes," she whispered. "I... I fainted, I think."

I beamed at the wry smile playing on her lips. "It's okay! You're safe now!" I climbed to my feet and lifted Annie to hers, sliding an arm around her waist to keep her steady. Distracted by voices, I noticed Hammerstein and Gardner continuing to argue over the rising din. Most of the people were now watching Hammerstein and Gardner going at it, realising Jonathan, despite his firearm, was not a threat. People were moving forward instead of back, trying to find out what all the shouting was about.

I couldn't believe my party had been reduced to this. What a disaster! Saul Houston was standing between Gardner and Hammerstein, trying to keep them apart. The wives seemed to think the whole thing was a big joke. Jonathan apologised quietly and led Josephine away with her head down. And I was just standing there, wondering what to do. Someone had to say something!

"All right! Enough!" Chantelle screamed, at the top of her lungs. She was standing on a table and the entire crowd stopped what they were doing and looked up at her. She had a look of serious determination on her face. Her eyes flashed, looking from face to face, assessing each and every one of them. As the seconds ticked by, she realised they were inexperienced people who didn't know better. Much like myself, they made assumptions about what was, and was not, real. My mouth fell open as I wondered what she was about to say. Amazingly, her eyes came to rest on mine.

"One day, someone came to see me and asked me a question. He asked if it was real." I swallowed as her eyes swept towards Hammerstein and Gardner. "People have been HURT tonight... and that is REAL. That HAPPENED... . And I won't STAND for it! You can't ASSUME people don't mind being hurt... I am a human fucking BEING! Of COURSE I don't LIKE to be hurt. And no one in this lifestyle EVER does.

"It's much more COMPLICATED than that. It's a MYTH to believe someone simply gets off on pain. Pain is a TOOL. A tool you need to know EXACTLY how to use. Punishment is STRUCTURED and PRIVATE. It is NOT for PUBLIC FUCKING CONSUMPTION." Her eyes swept over the shocked crowd. "What you witnessed here tonight was NOT orchestrated by the Domina Flagrante, but by those with a personal axe to grind and who were intoxicated by the fleeting power they possessed."

I looked at Gardner and his head dropped. His wife slapped him across his shoulder. I looked back at Chantelle. She was on a roll!

"Sylvia Harper has been caught up in a game she didn't even know she was playing. She deserves to be forgiven for her sins, not punished. There were other agendas being played out here tonight. None of which could be justified. Don't be fooled. There are those that will pay for this evening's interruptions..." Time stood still as she looked all around at the open-mouthed faces. "But, YOU people, the OPEN-MINDED ones, the ones who ENJOY learning something new... YOU are welcome to stay. If you so wish, the party will go on! What do you SAY?"

Any protests were thoroughly drowned out by a resounding 'YES!' vote. Chantelle waited until it was quiet again.

She cupped her hands around her mouth, directing her voice at the control room. "ADRIAN! MUSIC AND LIGHTS!" Then she spun around. Those to whom she was talking knew it in an instant. "SALON! NOW!"

In moments, music crashed into the hall like a train. The overhead lights drew dim, then the strobes and flickering coloured lights burst into life. The slave dancers gyrated and people cheered. Dominants and submissives were moving back into position. Smiles spread across faces and serious conversations began. People were ordering drinks and started picking at the leftovers.

Maybe all wasn't lost.

A few people were heading for the doors, but not many. The look on Chantelle's face as she stepped down from the table and stormed off to the salon made me shiver. Looking down at Annie, I was surprised to see her crying. I turned her towards me, holding her by the shoulders, and asked, "What's wrong?"

"I should have done something!"

"You weren't to know, pet."

"But..."

I pressed my index finger gently to her lips. "Hush now."

"But I'm going to be humiliated in front of everyone!"

"Chantelle has to go through me first."

"Only if I'm collared, Roger. Otherwise I'm fair game!"

"Annie, this is not about you, okay? It's not. And whether you are collared, or whatever it's called, or not, Chantelle knows how I feel about you and would always talk to me first."

"Ohhh..." Annie sobbed, embracing me tightly.

"Come on," I said softly. "Everything will be fine. Besides, I wanna see the fireworks!"

She looked up at me and I brushed the tears from her cheeks. In a small voice, she asked, "You really think she isn't mad at me?"

"I think I know who she's mad at," I said. "Come on, let's see if I'm right."

Taking Annie's hand in mine, I led her out through the milling crowd. It was almost like nothing had happened. I couldn't believe Chantelle had saved the party. People around me were enjoying themselves again, and more than once people came up to me while we made our way to the exit doors and told me not to worry about things. It was a bit of a blur though.

I just wanted to get to the salon!

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