Tied to the Tycoon

By: Chloe Cox


On what planet would she forget a man who simply sat down and said, “Clear off,” and people actually did it?

Ava herself had started to get up, an instinctual reaction to that tone of voice, when he’d stopped her. “Not you,” he’d said. “Sit.”

And she had done that, too, and had been irritated at herself for it. Irritated, a little turned on, and very confused.

She wished now that she could see him properly, but he was in silhouette, leaning back towards the lantern that hung behind him. She could see his hands, his large, rough, calloused hands, deftly playing with the deck of cards. The rest of him was a dim shadow, the suggestion of a square jaw, high cheekbones, and close-cropped hair reclining there with confidence. Maybe he was famous? A celebrity? That would explain this haunting familiarity, but it wouldn’t explain anything else.

“Sit?” she finally said.

“We’re going to play.”

“Oh, we are, are we?”

“Yes.”

“And who the hell are you?” she said.

He sat in silence, just toying with those cards. His fingers were little wonders, doing unconscious tricks, flipping cards, making them flutter and dance. Ava couldn’t help but wonder what else he could do with those hands.

She imagined he smiled as he said, “You didn’t have the stake to play with those other men.”

Ava narrowed her eyes. Who was this man? He spoke like he’d swallowed a bunch of gravel, or like he was trying to disguise his voice. But that was ridiculous; people didn’t really do things like that. It was just that the familiarity, the sense that she knew him, was intruding on every other thought, like a persistent itch. It was driving her crazy.

Maybe it was just his manner that made her crazy. She could tell already, whoever this man was, he belonged here. He was utterly dominant.

Ava thought back over the entire, bewildering night. In context—in this absurd context—it almost made sense that some sexy, smoldering man would sit down across from her in the dark and say incomprehensible things. Of course that would happen. This was Club Volare, and so far, it had been the weirdest night in Ava’s recent memory.

It had started off badly for Ava, with an unwelcome reversion to the shy, frightened version of herself that she thought she’d conquered long ago. It was just the sight of all these Doms or Masters or whatever they were, all of these good looking, wealthy men, knowing they were into BDSM and all the things Ava secretly fantasized about but hadn’t had the guts to pursue in ten years. Both times she had taken that chance, it had blown up in her face. She didn’t believe in fairy tales enough to think the third time would just magically work out.

So she’d wandered around this crazy fancy party, at this crazy fancy club she’d never known existed at the top of a crazy fancy hotel—and really, who expects that? A super exclusive BDSM sex club, or whatever it was, at the top of a five-star hotel? And who would have expected Stella Spencer to be into this life, of all people? Ava never would have predicted that, not in a million years, and that just added to her sense of disorientation. Ava was used to being able to read the people around her, to an almost uncomfortable degree, and now there were surprises popping up left and right. It was enough to make her question everything.

But her old friend Stella seemed happier than Ava had ever seen her. And marrying a sheikh. A sheikh. A sheikh who was obviously a Dom. Ava couldn’t help but wonder if she and Stella might have been able to talk about this stuff, if so many things might have gone differently if Ava had felt like there was someone who understood her.

For the brief moment when she had felt like there was someone who understood her, ages ago, she’d been truly happy.

But Ava had steeled herself, determined not to think about ancient history and the exact memories of heartbreak she was trying to leave behind by coming here tonight. She was surrounded now by rich, fancy Doms, some obvious submissives, and other types she was embarrassed not to be able to recognize—and hell, it was a party. If she ever wanted to indulge her fantasies, this was the place to do it. So why was she so scared? Hiding on the outskirts of the room like a wallflower? She hadn’t done that in years. And it was especially stupid, considering that this might be the place to secure her promotion at work, too. There were plenty of Fortune 500 faces running around the place, and at least some of them might be in need of a new advertising firm.

But she hadn’t been able to make herself mingle. It was all just too raw. Everywhere she looked, there was something that suggested sex, or bondage, or bondage and sex, and it all reminded her of a night she’d rather forget, and a man she’d never forget, no matter hard she tried. Funny that it didn’t primarily remind her of Peter, the terrible ex she’d fled, the one who’d confused dominance with being an abusive jerk, and who she’d actually dated for a long time. Instead, it reminded her of the guy she’d spent ten years trying to get over.

Up until tonight, she’d thought she had gotten over him.

But she’d been frozen on the outskirts of the party, too busy grappling with her own stupid issues to enjoy herself. So, obviously, it wasn’t all ancient history, and she hadn’t figured it all out. So what? She’d never been a coward, either. Which was when Ava Barnett had found the strength to become the person she’d learned to be—witty, charming, gracious, beloved—and ventured out to the one thing that looked familiar: a poker table. At least she’d assumed it was a Hold ‘Em table when she’d seen two cards being dealt out, and Ava knew damn well that she was good at Hold ‘Em. That talent for reading people came in handy, and there’d be no better way to regain control of her night than to whip some rich guy’s butt at cards.

Which was how she came to be sitting at this table with cards that didn’t look like any poker cards she’d ever seen, and with a mystery man sitting across from her. A man who hadn’t moved. A man whom she felt like she knew. A man whose eyes…she could feel them on her skin, like the gentle slide of sheet being drawn across her naked body.

Wow, Ava, do not blush.

She pulled herself together, remembered the arrogance of the last thing he’d said.

“What makes you think I don’t have the stake to play?” she said.

“I didn’t say that.”

Was he being willfully obtuse? She summoned her patience, and said, “If I don’t have the stake to play with them, what makes you think I have the stake to play with you?”

“You’re the only one who does.”

She felt him smile again. Just subtle shifts in his posture, his body language. It was like she’d known him all her life, and yet she didn’t even know his name. Or what his face looked like.

Still, Ava was getting annoyed. “What the hell does that mean?”

“You don’t know what the table stakes are, do you?” he said. Now she knew he was smiling in the dark. There was no disguising the amusement in his voice.

“Fine. I don’t. So what are the stakes?”

He finished another shuffle and started to deal out the cards.

“You,” he said.

Ava covered her surprise with a laugh. It was absurd. “Oh, really?”

“Yes. That’s the nature of this table. All of those men assumed you understood that when you sat down to play. I knew that you didn’t.”

“You knew that I didn’t? How condescending. How could you possibly know what I understand or don’t understand?” The fact that he was right only made her angrier.

“Because I see you.”

Ava’s heart stopped. There was something in the way he said that…and that voice…

The man in the dark continued, “This is Volare. If you don’t have chips, you bet with yourself. It’s a sexual game. And you don’t have chips.”

“I was going to buy some.”

“How many thousand dollar chips were you gonna buy, exactly?”

Ava stared dumbly at the cards that lay before her. She did not have chips, and yet, she was still in the game. She looked up, even though she knew what she would see: a stack of chips in front of the mystery man.