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Owned By Fate

By:Tessa Bailey

Owned By Fate - Tessa Bailey

Chapter One

“So, a respected financial journalist and an award-winning interior designer walk into a BDSM club…” Caroline Preston trailed off as she perused her surroundings with typical Manhattan coolness, wondering where they’d stashed the stockades.

“And?”

“And nothing. That’s the entire joke.”

Eliza, Caroline’s best friend since their days at Columbia, chuckled under her breath. “We just walked in. Try and last a minute before condemning it.” They climbed onto plush leather chairs at the ultra-sleek bar. “Who knows? You might even—gasp—have a good time.”

Caroline sent her a skeptical look. “One drink, and then we go get dumplings and fro-yo. That was the deal.”

“You’re forgetting that I’m here because you asked me to come.” Eliza tried to place a credit card on the bar¸ but Caroline beat her to it and signaled the bartender to start a tab. “Any other Friday night, I would have been in my pajamas watching HGTV, operating under the delusion that my career is more fulfilling than a social life.”

“Is there room under your delusion umbrella for one more?”

“Why? You’ve got your own.”

Caroline threw a good-natured scowl at her friend before leaning back in her chair to scrutinize the nightclub. It was a seamless mélange of grays, whites, blacks, and purples. Stainless steel fixtures provided minimal light, somehow dimming the volume of conversations to a collective purr in the darkness. Located in the Meatpacking District, just across the street from the Hudson, Serve appeared to be one of the many exclusive nightclubs in the area. The first floor gave that impression, anyway. Red velvet ropes, darkened windows, bouncers with earpieces looking judgmental. But everyone, even Caroline, knew what happened on the three floors above. Three floors that catered to guests with more…interesting tastes.

Well. Interesting to someone else, maybe. Just not her.

She’d only set foot in the place for one express purpose. To hate it. So far, no issues on that front. Although Caroline had to admit that the clientele surprised her. As a financial journalist, she rubbed elbows daily with Wall Street’s elite, which appeared to be Serve’s main demographic. Men who possessed that typical boardroom-executive bearing were tucked into shadowy corners, whispering in the ears of women wearing stylish, expensive clothes. Did they know what lurked above them? They must. People such as these didn’t walk into any situation without inspecting all angles, right?

Caroline’s shoulders drooped a little, remembering why she’d come. Her family’s esteemed financial magazine, Preston’s Daily Finance, was tanking. They were one month, tops, from declaring bankruptcy.

They’d spent weeks scrambling, trying to find new advertisers and even downsizing the staff. It wasn’t enough. Everything had seemed hopeless until her brother, Oliver, arrived at the board’s weekly meeting with a patently insane idea. He’d found someone willing to bail out the magazine. A Manhattan-based publisher of lifestyle magazines wanted to revamp Preston’s, combining finance with more exotic, adventurous themes directed at the wealthy.

BDSM included.

Of course, she and her father had dismissed the idea as absurd, but Oliver had been dogged, insisting it would be a lucrative venture. It had given Caroline pause, seeing him so passionate about something, a total departure from his usual laid-back demeanor. So while her father had voted no outright, Caroline, the only other board member beside her brother, had agreed on a trial run of sorts.

She wouldn’t be trying out the amenities herself. God, no. She’d be doing what she did best. Writing what she saw. They would publish a short feature about Serve in the current version of their magazine and observe the fallout. Knowing there wasn’t a chance in hell of a positive response, the situation was a win-win for her. She didn’t cut her brother, who she loved, off at the knees. Plus, this risky and downright ridiculous idea went away pronto.

So here she was. Taking mental notes for a story on a place that specialized in bondage and domination. Not her typical Friday night.

Drinks being placed on the bar in front of her and Eliza brought Caroline back to the present. She raised an eyebrow at the red lollipop–garnished martini. Combined with the low strains of Tom Waits drifting across the spacious lounge and several discreet cage-themed fixtures adorning the walls, Caroline concluded the owner must have an odd sense of humor. One would have to, she reasoned, to build a business model on the foundation of spankings.

She chuckled under her breath at the thought.

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