An excerpt of To the Edge

By Anna del Mar


Chapter One

Clara

My first attempt at submission went from failure to disaster in a whiff. An odd scent teased my nose and rattled my nerves. A prickle of uneasiness crept up my spine. I craned my neck, trying to figure out where the smell was coming from, but I couldn't see much beyond the narrow slits of my sequined velvet mask.

Note to blog: velvet masks may shield, tease and entice, but visibility sucks.

I heard a small sound, a swish maybe? It came from my right somewhere, from the hallway that led to the powder room. I tried twisting my body around in the cage, but I could barely move. My arms were fastened above my head and my ankles were strapped to the bars near the floor. I sniffed the air again. The smell seemed fainter. Maybe it was my imagination, trying to shock some common sense into me and put an end to today's little experiment.

I was alone in the old house. My companion had left twenty minutes ago, to find himself some coffee in town, he'd said. He'd left me cuffed in the cage so that I could reflect on my irreverent conduct. Right. Good luck with that, buddy. The truth was that he probably needed the caffeine boost in order to tackle a handful like me.

I let out a little groan. Sure, this was crazy, no two ways about it. Reckless my mother would say, risky and not exactly consistent with my usually sane behavior. But honestly? I had suppressed my life for others' sake long enough.

But this? A seditious little voice nagged in the back of my mind. I tried to quiet it down, but maybe, just maybe, I'd pushed the edge a little too hard on this one. God, the things I did in the name of freedom.

The tight leather corset dug into my ribs. My arms ached. My legs were tired and my feet were beginning to cramp in the impossibly high heels.

Note to blog: kink garb isn't exactly comfy.

Good God. I was actually going through with this. Me. Clara Luz. Attempting something so far out of my comfort zone, not to mention my family's much-touted moral rectitude. I slumped in my bonds. Was I really so freaking desperate?

A week and a half ago, Annette Collins, the legendary editor of RelevantSex.com, had presented me with a unique proposition. Annette had been my advisor in grad school and as such, the only person who knew about my online adventures. From the beginning, she'd followed sextattle.com, the sex and romance blog I published—anonymously, of course.

It wasn't as if I was particularly versed or gifted in these oh so very fascinating subjects. On the contrary. My relationship IQ measured pretty low on the success scale. But the blog wasn't so much an advice column as it was a forum. Discussion questions came in through an unfiltered inbox, I posted them under different categories and people talked about them. I was good at research, so I mostly shared facts and links to helpful resources. I followed the old adage: those who can't do, teach. Or, in my case, share online.

Initially, the blog had been an experiment, a grad school project that went unexpectedly viral. But after graduation, the blog transformed into a labor of love, a means to connect with people and the only possible way in which I could pursue my own journey, separate from that of my illustrious mother. These days the blog had a very respectable reach, solid advertising revenues and an expanding market that had caught Annette's eye. She'd made me an excellent offer to merge my blog with RelevantSex.com.

The catch?

Annette wanted a trial run, a main feature to woo the editorial board and test my range, a fresh, raw take on the topic of sex and submission, a personal account of my first exploration of kink to tantalize her readers.

"It's a fascinating subject," she'd said during our meeting at LeMond's Cafe in Adams Morgan. "Look at the movies. Look at the novels. The public is fascinated by kink, domination and submission. Your readers will be too. An exploration is totally relevant."

"Then why don't you assign someone who's already on staff at RelevantSex.com?" I didn't have any wisdom to share on the topic, zero, zip, nada. "Or better yet, why don't you tackle it?"

"Because I might be biased on the subject." She fastened her glimmering green eyes on my face. "Whereas you, my dear, are sure to bring a fresh perspective to our readers."

Her naughty smile activated my Spidey senses and ignited my blush. I wasn't a prude by any means, but kink? Yep, I'd bring a fresh perspective for sure. As to Annette, any lingering questions I may have had about the extent of her personal kink exposure were fully answered when she plunked down a long, comprehensive list of potential interview sources and references on the table.

Holy crap. I had a mental image of the sober pearl-decked Annette, dressed in black leather, whip in hand, red curls cascading down her back. I forced my mouth to close.

Annette's project was intriguing but, given my leadership role at the Luz Foundation and my mother's high profile, it was also dangerous to me, personally and professionally. I tried to err on the side of caution. "I might not be the right person for this one."

"Nonsense." She reached over the table and, after tucking a strand of my bangs behind my ear, trailed her fingers down my chin. "You are perfect."

I had to shake off the shock. Had Annette just made a pass at me? No way. My overactive imagination was busy at work, again. Annette was a consummate professional and she'd been a mentor to me for many years. She was just trying to reassure me, something I needed, because I was torn. My brain twirled like a coin in the air, and I had no clue which one of my faces would come up at landing: dutiful Clara or her surly, rebellious twin?

"Come on, Clara." Annette clasped her hands together and grinned. "Say yes. Please?"

Something about the idea of exploring sex's kinky underworld had me shivering inside. I was curious and Annette was right. Her readers would eat it up. My readers would like it too. Most importantly, Annette's proposal offered me an opportunity to reach the one thing I'd spent my entire adult life trying to achieve: freedom. The possibility of doing what I loved on my own terms and the chance to finally cut the ties that bound me to the family trust.

I couldn't say no to freedom. I couldn't say no to Annette or to the sense of excitement growing in me. I took a deep breath and met Annette's emerald stare. She gave me an encouraging nod. What the heck. I'd been wavering on the edge of this cliff for a while, but on that hot and humid September day, I jumped.

"I'll do it."

Now, almost a week and a half later, as I teetered on the balls of my feet, nearly hanging from the cuffs, the irony wasn't lost on me. To cut the old ties, I'd had to accept some very real bonds. In my search for freedom, I'd stepped into a cage.

I let out a nervous giggle. It echoed in the empty house. Some would think I was exaggerating the scope of my predicament. They didn't know my mother. Senator Margaret Luz had made sure to cut off all my avenues of escape as I grew up. After I finished grad school, nobody in DC would give me a job without her express consent. Instead of working for myself as I'd planned, she'd strong-armed me to work for her charity foundation.

As her only offspring, I was more of a prop than a person. Beyond birthing me, she'd designed me, selected the best genetic material she could buy from an impressive catalogue of sperm donors in order to create the perfect daughter. Sure, I owed her my existence, but my chances of meeting her high expectations had been zero from the start.

Of course, she didn't know about my blog. She'd kill me if she did. She'd kill the blog too, and bury it forever. But Annette had gone where no one else had dared and offered me a unique opportunity. If this worked, it would be well worth the effort. I straightened my back. I wasn't a Luz for nothing. I'd make it work.

I tested the cuffs and puffed. Where the hell was Mark Walker? My test Dom for the day was taking his sweet time getting his damn coffee. I gritted my teeth and groaned. Patience had never been my strong suit. Once I made my decision and committed to the venture, I'd considered the risks and, in true Luz fashion, planned and obsessed over every step.

I wasn't an idiot, so I'd started by vetting Mark Walker thoroughly. Even though he'd come highly recommended by Annette, I'd commissioned a background investigation from one of Washington's premier security firms. Yep, that was me, all right, ever the overachiever. Mark passed with flying colors, a model citizen in every way, requirement number one. A little adventure was exciting, but a sadist or a serial killer had no place in my risk assessment matrix.

To protect myself and my name, I'd also had Mark sign RelevantSex.com's ironclad confidentiality agreement. Then I'd scheduled a preliminary meeting to make sure we were both on the same page. Our deal was kink 101, a limited intro to the BD part of BDSM, no intercourse or pain. Safety first.

I'd taken equal care when selecting the location for this meeting. The house where we used to summer when I was young was located smack in the middle of Avalon, an island in the Chesapeake Bay. The property was surrounded by a wildlife refuge on all sides. I'd inherited the Victorian beauty from my grandfather, who'd been senator before my mother.

I'd always felt safe here. The house held some of the best memories of my life. It was out of the way, accessible only by ferry, remote, secluded and most importantly, way outside of my mother's radar, a fact that started to feel a lot like a liability when the odd scent tickled my nostrils again.

This time around, I recognized the smell. Smoke. My heart tripped. Alarm crawled up my spine like a bunch of daddy longlegs. I tugged on the cuffs. They clanged on the bars, but they didn't give. I craned my neck and, peering through the mask's narrow slits, caught a glimpse of white wisps trickling from the hallway into the living room.

Oh my God. Smoke. A fire? No way. The house hadn't been used in years. Mark and I were the only ones here and we'd done nothing that could possibly start a fire. Right?

Wrong.

I had a memory of Mark Walker as he stepped out of the bathroom holding the lit candle he'd used to introduce me to a little wax-on-ass play earlier today. Lit candle. Matches. Wicker wastebasket.

Holy shit.

My belly turned to ice. The key. Where the heck had Mark put the cuffs' key? In his front shirt pocket, I remembered him teasing me with the act. Crap. I tugged on the cuffs. The cage rattled, my wrists smarted and yet the cuffs held. Where on earth was Mark Walker when you needed him?

I looked around the room, growing more alarmed by the moment. The wrist cuffs wouldn't budge, but maybe if I freed my feet I could lift my knees and use my weight to bust the chain that connected the cuffs. I kicked off my right shoe, pointed my toes and contorted my foot, choking down gulps of panic. This was going to take some doing.

A fire. A freaking fire. I railed at a God who amused himself with stuff like this. Keep your head. Use your wits. Don't panic. It would've been the Luz motto, if we'd had one of those. I ignored the terror squeezing my throat and kept working on the ankle strap. Success. My right foot came free. I started to work on the left strap right away. If I could only do the same with my wrists...

The sound of crackling echoed from the hallway, a low, husky growl. Holy Mary. Maybe I was having a nightmare. I really wanted to pinch myself awake. But there was the small problem of the cuffs. I was not going to die today.

My left foot came free. Hallelujah. I didn't waste any time. I flexed my legs, pulled on the cuffs and, curling my knees into my stomach, added my weight. The chain didn't break. I kept at it, but I needed plan B. I tried screaming for help, but the gag in my mouth muffled my cries and the screech that pierced my ears sounded more like a yowling she-cat.

Note to blog: gags are a pain in the ass.

And who the hell was going to hear me anyway? Avalon's population amounted to 727 souls who lived mostly on the bay, ten miles down the gravel road. The cabin was surrounded by the Luz wildlife refuge, my grandfather's doing. I was in so much trouble.

What would my mother say if they found me out here, burned to a crisp, shackled in a cage? Her embarrassment, not to mention her rage, would probably far exceed her grief. The newspapers. Social media. The scandal. I wiped the image from my mind and concentrated on the cuffs. I wasn't going to burn, wasn't willing to die, not yet, not this way.

A voice caught my attention. A call came from the outside. A call? I squealed back in reply. Within moments, the back doors exploded off the hinges. A man broke through, angled forward like a linebacker, tall and broad-shouldered. His run came to an abrupt halt in the middle of the living room. He took in the scene and quickly assessed the situation like a man who was used to danger.

The look of competence in his stare restored my hope for a longer life. Thank you, God! I would've whooped with elation if I could. His eyes widened with surprise when he registered the cage—and probably my attire—but he didn't hesitate as he rushed over.

"Hang on," he said as he unlatched the cage's door. "What the hell is going on?"

I craned my neck to follow his progress, mumbling frantic gibberish through the gag. Something about him was familiar, the wide cheekbones, the straight angle at the jaw, the eyes, black, soulful and deep. My heart jerked to a sudden stop. I did a double take. No way. It couldn't be. I stole another look at him. My elation turned to shock. Was I losing my mind? I rose on my toes, lifted my face to the heels of my hands and managed to knuckle my eyes. Maybe I was delusional. Maybe he was a ghost. Maybe I was suffering from oxygen deprivation, even though the smoke didn't look nearly that bad. I blinked several times to clear my vision. It couldn't be, shouldn't be, and yet, when I looked again, there he was, the same man, the face I remembered so well.

A rush of blood heated my face. No. Oh, no. Never in my wildest dreams had I expected to find him here, now. Of all the people in the universe, he would've been the last I wanted to see me in my current state. How could this be?

His appearance weakened my knees and demolished my fortitude. My rescuer, the one person who'd heard my cries and who could potentially get me out, was also the same man who'd almost destroyed me once. He might not be able to recognize me yet, but I sure recognized him. The last time I'd seen him was right here, in this house, an hour before he broke my heart. It was him. The first man I ever loved.

Noah Blake.


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