Masters and Mercenaries Book 6.5, Sanctum Nights Book 3
Print Book: Amazon
About the book
Derek Brighton has become one of Dallas’s finest detectives through a combination of discipline and obsession. Once he has a target in his sights, nothing can stop him. When he isn’t solving homicides, he applies the same intensity to his playtime at Sanctum, a secretive BDSM club. Unfortunately, no amount of beautiful submissives can fill the hole that one woman left in his heart.
Karina Mills has a reputation for being reckless, and her clients appreciate her results. As a private investigator, she pursues her cases with nothing holding her back. In her personal life, Karina yearns for something different. Playing at Sanctum has been a safe way to find peace, but the one Dom who could truly master her heart is out of reach.
On the hunt for a killer, Derek enters a shadowy underworld only to find the woman he aches for is working the same case. Karina is searching for a missing girl and won’t stop until she finds her. To get close to their prime suspect, they need to pose as a couple. But as their operation goes under the covers, unlikely partners become passionate lovers while the killer prepares to strike.
Derek Brighton watched the Texas Ranger running the meeting. Clayton Hill was a big guy dressed in pressed jeans and a perfectly ironed western shirt with pearl snaps. Polished boots covered his feet. That dude didn’t have to wear craptastic polyester uniforms, and he was pretty sure he didn’t have civilians regularly cursing him. He stood tall in the small conference room in the DPD building. Two other members of the Rangers stood in the back. Derek was the only officer representing the Dallas Police Department. It made him nervous that there was so much attention settled straight on him.
The slide changed, throwing ghastly images on the screen.
“The unsub has killed four women we know of,” Hill explained. “We’re fairly certain his actual number is more. He’s smart and clean, so he’s likely got several not so clean kills to his credit, and he’s smart enough to not get his prints on a vic. We believe he’s using latex gloves and has a working knowledge of forensics.”
The blond guy in the back snorted a little. He wasn’t dressed in typical western wear. He wore a full suit and kept his hair in a far too metro style to actually be a field Ranger. He seemed to be some sort of tech, but both Rangers turned and gave him chilly looks.
“Harris? Do you have something to add?” Hill asked.
The man named Harris held up his hands. “Just saying the dude ain’t as smart as me or he wouldn’t have pulled the rice trick. Idiot.”
Hill turned back. “Ignore him. He’s our forensic expert. He’s got a genius level IQ and the personality of a jackass. Now back to our unsub. The feds are staying out of it—for now. Let’s hope we can solve this before we have to deal with them. The minute they step in, we’re all screwed. So all the victims were left in a similar fashion…”
Hill kept talking, but Derek looked at the slide in front of him. A brunette had her hands together, tied in a knot he recognized. Asanawa. Shit. There was a reason Hill had chosen him and it wasn’t for his location. Three of the killings had occurred outside of his precinct.
Fuck all. He’d been outed. After ten years of keeping his proclivities private, someone had talked.
Derek sighed and sat back in his chair. If he was going to get fired, he wouldn’t be sitting in on this meeting. He would be in the chief’s office getting his ass handed to him. The chief wouldn’t care personally. Hell, the chief was a member at Sanctum, but if there was a scandal brewing, he’d have no choice but to throw Derek under the proverbial bus. He was sure they would find some tiny infraction he’d committed. Internal Affairs loved to fire people for taking pencils or using the Internet for personal reasons. Everyone did it, but IA used it as an excuse to get rid of problem officers all the time.
“Do you recognize the rope pattern, Lieutenant?” Clayton Hill’s partner had identified himself as Tyler Watts. He was only slightly smaller than his partner, his hair an almost reddish brown. He kept it the tiniest bit longer than Hill and there was at least ten years separating him from the older officer. A Ranger baby. Which meant he was deadlier than the rest, more competent than his age would suggest.
This was the moment. He could shrug and ask why he’d been pulled in here. He could deny everything and maybe, just maybe save his ass in the long run.
The vision of the girl, forever silenced, would haunt him if he didn’t speak up. Unfortunately, he hadn’t become a cop to save his ass. He’d become a soldier first and then a cop because the need to protect was his highest imperative. He sighed and followed his instincts. He couldn’t be less than who he was, wouldn’t allow himself to hide when it meant someone’s justice might go undone. “Yes. They form a pattern used by practitioners of Japanese rope bondage. Do you have close-ups of the ligature marks?”
Normally he would call them rope marks—a loving reminder of a good time between a sub and Dom, but this wasn’t BDSM. BDSM was consensual. Always. He’d heard the term consensual BDSM. Whoever came up with it was a fuck wit. Non-consensual BDSM was assault, battery, rape. It was a crime and should be treated as such.
Harris stepped up, a folder in his hand. “Absolutely. The minute I realized what was happening, I paid close attention to the patterns.” He shrugged a little. “I have a girlfriend who read all that Fifty Shades stuff. Can’t stand it myself, but damn it gets the ladies hawt, if you know what I mean. I’ve gotten more trim from that damn book. I could kiss EL James. Or hey, I could do her, too.”
Harris was annoying as fuck. Derek simply stared at the idiot until he passed him the folder.
“You thought about applying for the Rangers, Brighton?” Watts asked, a smile on his face. “Because you have the intimidating look down.”
He flipped the folder open and was assaulted by a look book of horrors. Harris might be an ass, but he understood how to document a crime. He’d taken his time, making a panorama of the victim’s torture. Every knot was documented and then removed to show how the rope had burned into the victim’s skin, forming patterns.
“He knows what he’s doing.” Derek had practiced Shibari for years and studied with a Master. This guy knew what he was doing with ropes and knots, but he was brutal. “He understands the lifestyle, but I would say he’s not a true believer. He plays at it. He’s good with knots, but he’s a Master in the narrowest sense of the word.”
“What the hell does that mean?” Hill asked, his brows in a confused V.
Derek tried not to get his back up. He had to be patient with people who didn’t understand the lifestyle. “It means a true Master does what’s right for his submissive. This man is a monster who understands the discipline but ignores the philosophy.”
Harris grinned. “Told you I was right to bring him in.”
Hill rolled his eyes.
The door opened and a bright light blocked the silhouette of a man coming through the doorway. A large man. And then another. Two big-ass dudes were entering what had previously been a nearly empty conference room.
“Is this the right place?” The first shadow asked, though with that accent of his, it came out more like Is dis ta right place?
Liam O’Donnell. He would know that accent anywhere. Well, at least he wasn’t the only one who’d been outed as a perv, though O’Donnell worked in the private sector.
Hill made a gesture and the lights suddenly came up. Derek could see the second man. Sean Taggart. Tall, blond, built like a linebacker. It was odd that the six foot three inch former Green Beret’s nickname was Little Tag, but then his older brother dwarfed him. Ian Taggart had been Derek’s commanding officer when he’d been in the Green Berets as well. He knew Big Tag better but was well acquainted with the younger Taggart. Before he’d gotten married and become a chef, Little Tag had worked with his brother at McKay-Taggart, an elite security firm that handled work for corporations, private citizens and—if rumors were true—often did work for the CIA.
Yeah, there was a reason Derek had joined the Dallas Police Department. He’d had enough of the Agency to last a lifetime. He had the scars and the nightmares to prove it. Just thinking about the CIA made a place in his gut ache—the same place where the Taliban had shoved their knives.
“You’re in the right place, Mr. O’Donnell, Mr. Taggart.” Hill offered them seats, his eyes going back to the door. “Are you alone? I extended the invitation to the rest of your team.”
Sean Taggart huffed a little. “Yes, it was such a lovely invite. You know invitations don’t usually come with armed escorts. Alex and Eve are on their way in. They were just a bit behind us.”
Hill’s serious stare told Derek he didn’t appreciate the sarcasm. If he was going to work with McKay-Taggart, he’d better get used to it. Sarcasm was their first language.
O’Donnell sank down into the seat next to him, a frown on his face. “Is this your doing, Brighton? You know I just had a kid. I had to leave Avery and Aidan behind with the Paxon sisters because apparently you can’t do your job properly.”
“Give the guy a break,” Little Tag interjected. “You don’t understand how law enforcement works in Texas. When the Rangers call, you answer.”
“I thought the bloody Rangers were a bad baseball team,” O’Donnell grumbled.
And that was all he needed from the Irishman. “Bite my balls, asshole. Don’t talk about either Rangers that way.” He wouldn’t have anybody insult his team on his home turf. God only knew what the Irishman considered real sports. Probably soccer. “I’m not behind this. I got the same invitation, though the Ranger just came to my desk and hauled me in here.”
Hill took a step forward, moving with the ease of a predator. “I only sent out the escort because I’ve heard Taggart can be a jerk.”
Watts held out a hand. He was obviously the one who tried to smooth the way for his rougher partner. “Difficult. We’d just heard he could be difficult.”
Harris obviously had no worries. He just grinned. “Oh, I’ve heard he’s an enormous ass. I was totally looking forward to meeting him.”
Sean snorted a little. “You have no idea. Unfortunately, you picked a shitty time to decide to need his services. My brother is on assignment in England along with half our crew. I’m sitting in for him for a couple of weeks because we’re short staffed. Li here just had a kid and so did Adam and Jake. Jake pulled the short straw and had to go across the pond with the rest of them. Adam hid in the bathroom when the asshole escort showed up. I’m getting his ass back for that later. If you were trying to get to big brother, you’re going to have to call Tennessee Smith, and good fucking luck with that, man.”
Tennessee Smith hadn’t been Derek’s handler when he’d done the Agency’s dirty work, but he knew the man well enough. Even if Hill could find a number for the CIA agent, there was zero chance that Smith would take the call if he was working overseas.
Hill shook his head. “I’d love to have the big guy, but I’ll settle for what I have. Consider yourself subject experts. Captain, thanks for joining us.”
Shit. Derek’s boss walked in and took a seat. Great. He needed his boss to hear this. The captain simply nodded his way and gave him a quick hello.
The Ranger turned to the door again. “Ah, and there’s the one I really wanted to see. Hello, darlin’.”
“Hello, Clayton,” a smooth feminine voice said. There was a warm welcome in her tone. “It’s nice to see you again.”
Derek turned to see Eve McKay stride into the room. She was a former profiler for the FBI and it looked like she’d done some work for the Rangers as well if her warm greeting for Hill was any indication. She was dressed in a chic business suit, her blonde hair pulled back in a business-like bun. She was followed by her hulking beast of a husband who also served as her Dom. She stopped and allowed him to move in front of her, their ease with each other obvious to everyone in the room.
Eve allowed her husband to go first, allowed him to find a seat for her, allowed him to assess any threats in the room before following him. Eve was a submissive and a proper one at that. She was lovely and controlled and trusted her Dom with her safety and comfort and life.
So unlike Karina. Karina was always the slightest bit messy when she wasn’t in fet wear. She typically wore her hair in a ponytail, the pure raven strands flying out at odd angles. She often didn’t wear makeup and outside the club wouldn’t wear a damn thing on her feet besides those nasty looking sneakers she claimed were comfortable. Eve was the gracious submissive and Karina was a self-described tough chick.
He didn’t do tough chicks. Even when he really fucking wanted to. Even when they called to him. Even when his dick jumped at the sound of her voice.
Nope. He’d done the modern relationship thing. He wouldn’t go there again. It ended in frustration and divorce. He didn’t need another “modern” woman to emasculate him. His wife had done the job quite well.
His ex. Fuck all. Just like that he knew why he was here. “Maia. Maia told you.”
Maia Brighton—because god knew she couldn’t be bothered to change her name after the divorce—was one of the Dallas District Attorney’s Office’s hottest lawyers. In more ways than one. She was damn fine at her job and from what Derek could tell, she’d also slept with most of her bosses. And she was just the type to give up his kinks and those of his friends if she thought it would take her an extra step up the ladder.
Hill nodded shortly. “Harris came up with the idea of bringing in subject experts on this case, Detective. I asked the DA’s office if they knew of any and they were happy to oblige.”
Derek’s boss, Captain Joe Harrigan, leaned forward in his seat. “Derek, the Rangers here have promised to be discreet. As far as anyone knows, you’re going to be working this case because you’ve worked more homicides than anyone else in the division.”
“I’m not going to get my ass kicked for my private life?” He wouldn’t be the first cop to find himself shoved off the force for not toeing the very narrow line.
Joe snorted a little, as did Alex McKay as he slid into his seat after settling Eve into hers. “You’re not the only one with kinks, man,” the captain said. “The chief belongs to a club himself.”
Derek relaxed a little. If the chief had said something to his captain, then everything was cool. He was a good cop. He’d always done his best and had been told he was in line for promotions. Maybe the department wasn’t so rigid. “So you’re looking for BDSM experts because you think the killer is prowling BDSM clubs?”
“All of the women he’s killed have been known submissives in the community. Including the latest.” Hill’s whole face went grave and he glanced at Joe, who nodded. There was a heavy tension permeating the air.
Oh, fuck. They were holding back on him. He looked between the two men, searching their faces as they held a silent conversation between them that ended with Joe sighing heavily and placing his hand on the folder he’d brought in.
Derek’s stomach took a nose dive.
“Who?” There was only one reason for him to touch that folder like he didn’t want to release it, like there was something sacred in it and the information would change things.
“He killed again, early this morning. It’s why we brought you in so suddenly,” Joe explained.
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. He stared at the folder like it was a snake that would bite him if he moved even an inch. Very slowly, as though time had turned into a mud pit he had to slog through, Joe slid that folder his way.
“I’m sorry to have to tell you this way, Brighton. The latest victim is someone you know,” Hill explained, his deep voice grim. “It’s someone you all know. Apparently she was a regular at that club your brother owns, Sean. Sanctum?”
Sean had gone a little white, his eyes on the folder, too. “Yes.”
“Oh, my god.” Eve reached for her husband, tears already in her eyes.
“Fuck me,” O’Donnell said, running a hand through his hair. “It’s not Jill or Ashley. I just left them.”
All around him they were chattering, but it seemed to come from a distance because his hand was on that folder and his stomach was somewhere in his throat. He was a cop who’d seen the absolute worst things humanity could do both in war and in the civilian sector. He could handle just about anything, but he was going to make a fool of himself if he turned that folder over and saw her in a photograph, her gorgeous blue eyes dead and that skin of hers cold.
Not Karina. Not Karina. Not Karina.
He suddenly wondered who it would be okay to see in that picture and he realized a brutal and nasty truth. Anyone but her. He could handle it being anyone except her. He was friends with the subs at Sanctum. He’d slept with some of them, and he suddenly knew he would toss them all to the wolves if it meant Karina was still breathing. It was perverse because he wasn’t even friends with her. He was never going to be close to her, but he couldn’t stand the thought of never seeing her again.
Not Karina. Not Karina. Not Karina.
He turned over the folder and a golden-haired blonde with blue eyes was staring up at him. He’d seen those blue eyes before, but now there was nothing lighting them. They were flat and empty in death.
“Holy shite,” O’Donnell breathed as he looked over Derek’s shoulder. “I didn’t like the girl, but damn me if I want that to happen to anyone.”
Amanda. Guilt swamped in and yet he couldn’t help but feel a massive wave of relief. Not Karina. Amanda. She’d been a junior officer, a first-class bitch, and he’d had a hand in ousting her from Sanctum. Now she was dead, a victim. She was a cop and all he could think about was Karina. He was a pathetic waste. He should feel more for a woman he’d worked with. He’d topped Amanda on many occasions, but deep down it had just been an exchange of need. There hadn’t been a single emotion for her beyond anger when she’d threatened to bring down the club.
Shouldn’t it mean more?
“Officer King was found dead in an alley behind a club in Deep Ellum early this morning,” Joe said in a monotone that let Derek know he was in full-on cop mode. Nothing would touch him until he’d gotten the job done.
That cold professionalism was nothing less than what he owed to his fallen officer.
Derek adopted the same and tried his damnedest to not feel the relief in his gut that Karina was still walking the earth in her atrocious shoes.
Because it didn’t matter. She wasn’t his type and she was kind of a righteous bitch who had it in for him, which was why he wished she would stop looking at him with her doe eyes and stop walking around the club with her big, gorgeous tits hanging out, and wished she would disappear so he could fucking sleep with someone else because he damn straight wasn’t going to sleep with her.
No way. No fucking how.
Professional. He had to stay cool and calm because there was a killer working and he’d come straight into Derek’s world.
“Amanda was no longer a member of Sanctum. We have very strict rules on how submissives enter and leave the club. She would never have been allowed to walk to her vehicle alone. She would have been walked to her car and she would have been asked to call another member of the club when she got safely home. If she hadn’t made the call, someone would have gone looking for her,” Alex McKay explained as Derek ran through the details that made up the end of Amanda’s life.
Strangled with jute rope. He stared at the pictures, recognizing the tortoise-shaped pattern of ropes that crossed her naked flesh. A rope dress. The bastard had used an intricate pattern to truss her up.
“Yes, we think she was in one of the larger clubs, a not so private one. There are two we’ve identified in the DFW area and that’s where we need your help,” Hill explained.
“You want us to go undercover,” Sean surmised.
“Eve isn’t going anywhere,” McKay said immediately. “She can profile the fucker for you, but if he’s killing subs, you can’t expect me to send her in.”
Watts stepped up. “Look, we don’t need a sub. We’ve got a good line on a sub to send in. I haven’t talked to her myself, but we’ve identified her as a potential victim. We found her name on a grain of rice the unsub left on Officer King.”
“We?” Harris said, his eyes wide.
Clayton pointed a finger Harris’s way. “Just explain the findings. We don’t need a ton of attitude.”
Harris straightened his tie and smirked for all he was worth. “They didn’t even realize it was there. I didn’t work the first couple of cases. The other guy is an idiot. I found it this morning. It was very small, a little trace. He’s looking to lead us down a rabbit hole and no one had found the way yet.”
Oh, Derek was so glad he didn’t have to work with this asshole on a regular basis. “Are you going to explain or just give us a lot of literary references?”
“But they’re good references. You have to admit I have style.” He sighed a little. “Fine. Besides the obvious bondage, I found something odd in her hair. I’ve got a very specific routine. I check every inch of the victim. I don’t miss a damn thing. I found something weird in her hair. A grain of rice. A lesser tech would have missed it or thought it was a coincidence. Maybe she’d been cooking earlier. But it didn’t get past me. That was a clue and I had a feeling about it.”
Hill huffed a little. “I want to murder him myself half the time, but he’s got uncanny instincts.”
“What does rice have to do with this?” Liam asked.
Harris rubbed his hands together in obvious delight. “So much. It’s the little things that truly make a crime a work of art. I bagged that grain of rice and it was the first thing I studied. I knew it was meaningful. I got it under my scope and that was when I found it. A name was written right fucking there. We’ve gone back through the other victims and in each case there was a single grain of rice with the next victim’s name on it. Who the flying fuck does that?”
Alex frowned. “How the hell did he get it on there?”
It was the kind of thing he’d seen at amusement parks and festivals. Your Name on a Grain of Rice. He’d seen booths offering the keepsake a couple of times. He’d never heard of it being left on a victim.
“You know the name of the submissive you think is going to be the unsub’s next victim?” Eve asked. “I would love to talk to her. I know a bit about Amanda. If you would give me information on the other victims and let me talk to this woman, it would help me with a profile. I assume that’s why I’m here.”
Hill nodded. “I need you, Eve. You’ve done amazing work for us in the past. I’ve been given the go-ahead to pay your usual rate and double if you have to work overtime.”
She shook her head. “No. This is pro bono, Clay.”
Alex agreed. “McKay-Taggart is at your service. This is personal. Just tell us what you need.”
“I think he needs one of us to act as the next victim’s Dom,” Sean said.
Hill nodded. “We need one of you to make contact with the potential victim. We’re bringing her in to talk, but we thought a friendly face might help to sway her to work with us. She should be here in a few hours. I’m going to brief you and then you can help explain it all to her. We need her. If she decides to run, we might lose him and he’ll kill another girl.”
A cold feeling hit his stomach. He’d always had an uncanny sense of when the shit was about to hit the fan, and it threatened to take him over now. Someone he knew?
“What’s her name?” The question was tight, forced from his throat.
“Karina. Karina Mills. She’s a private detective from what I understand. I was told you know her quite well. It’s why I actually think we might have caught a break. She should be good undercover, right?”
She wasn’t working undercover. They wanted bait. Pretty, sweet bait with spectacular tits and an ass he’d been dying to spank.
“I’ll do it. I’ll be her Dom.” He was startled to hear the words coming out of his mouth, but he wouldn’t take them back.
“Damn straight you will,” Alex said. “You’re the only one of us who can, Derek. Simon and Jesse are in England. Tag will kick our asses if Karina gets murdered. She’s practically on the payroll.”
One of us. That was what McKay was talking about. Amanda might have gone to Sanctum, but Karina was truly one of them. Karina was a fixture at both Sanctum and McKay-Taggart. She was also a pain in his ass.
And this is your shot to get your hands on her, dickhead. Don’t fucking blow it. You’ll have to be with her, sleep close to her, protect her. You can fuck her and get her out of your system and then you won’t have this ache in your gut every time she walks in a room. You can be free of her. You’ll see it wouldn’t ever work. You’ll know.
“I’ll take care of her. This is my case.” He needed to use the words his old Army buddies would recognize and respect. “My op.”
His op. His way. His charge.
Fuck. Karina Mills was going to be in his care, his responsibility.
One way or another, he would save her. Whether she liked it or not.
Copyright 2014 Lexi Blake