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Excerpt: The Power Games

Excerpt: The Power Games

Book 1: Club Helix

Chapter One

Ava

“Fuck, Emmett. What was I thinking?” I whisper with a hint of panic as our plane from New York touches down in Las Vegas. For the past two years, Emmett has been everything to me—my best friend, roommate, protector, confidant, and the only person in the world I truly trust because he knows better than anyone what kind of hell I’ve been through. After all, he’s been through hell himself. Now he’s about to be my pretend Dom, whatever the hell that means, and I’m suddenly having an attack of serious misgivings.

The five-hour flight has given me way too much time to think about the reality of what I’m about to do—posing as a submissive to Emmett’s Dom on a reality show called The Power Games. The show is designed to promote a brand-new Las Vegas resort called Club Helix, an over-the-top, no-expense-spared, sophisticated BDSM-themed resort where guests can indulge their deepest, darkest fantasies in the city of sin.

“You’ve got this, Ava,” Emmett says resolutely, covering my fingers that are digging into his arm and giving them a quick squeeze. “We’ve got this.” Emmett is always supremely confident. It’s one of the things I love most about him; he has enough courage for both of us.

“What if I can’t pull it off?” I whisper, voicing my misgivings. After all, I’m not submissive. Hell, I’ve never even had sex before. I’ve been too focused on school and guarding my heart to get too close to anyone. I learned from watching my mom that I’m better off without love. She had gone to college with big dreams, but instead she’d fallen in love with my father, gotten pregnant, and dropped out of school. For a while, everything was perfect. My father was a successful architect, and we’d lived happily in the charming, well-to-do suburb of Kirkland, just east of Seattle. But that all ended after he committed suicide when I was fifteen, negating his life-insurance policy and leaving my mother and me virtually penniless. She’d had no college degree, no work experience, and no way to support herself and me.

Luckily, I suppose, she was still in her thirties and beautiful, and before long Anthony Sanderson III had come along, seducing her with the promise of financial security and an even more opulent lifestyle than the one she had grown accustomed to with my father. A lifestyle, I think bitterly, that was more important to her than her own daughter.

“We’ve been over this,” Emmett says patiently, drawing me back to the present. “I’m an experienced Dom. Just follow my lead. All you have to do is act for a few scenes when the cameras are rolling. The rest of the time it’ll just be you and me hanging out like we always do. But at a kick-ass hotel in Las Vegas!” His pep talk reiterates all the points we’ve gone over since he came up with the harebrained idea that I should go on the show with him. After his application to be on the show had been accepted and I’d found out my stepfather had managed to yank my summer internship out from under me at the last minute, he’d actually made it sound plausible.

“Besides, you’re a great actress.” His mouth tightens into a line. “You do a damn near perfect job of acting like you’re fine after what your asshole of a stepfather did to you,” he adds grimly. His expressive brown eyes bore into mine with an intensity that’s rare for him. “What he did was despicable, and he should pay. The world should know exactly what he is. Remember, Ava, that’s why you’re really doing this. To ruin the fucking bastard!” He leans back against the seat, once again the easygoing charmer women fall all over. “And it beats being homeless in New York for the summer.”

I sigh. He’s right on both counts. It had seemed like the perfect solution when he’d suggested it. I had no money, no job prospects, and no place to live. I’d spent the last of my scholarship money on a plane ticket to Florida for the internship I no longer had, I’d already given up my job at the coffee shop where I worked, and we’d sublet our apartment for the summer. I’d definitely had a few misgivings about going on a reality show, especially one as sensual and boundary-pushing as The Power Games, but I’d have a place to live for the summer, time to regroup, and the chance to win some serious money. And the show was going to be edgy, but classy and sophisticated. Plus, the hotel was gorgeous. All I had to do was act like a submissive for a few hours here and there. And with Emmett as my Dom, how hard could it be?

But somehow, I still hadn’t been able to pull the trigger initially. The whole idea was so foreign, so surreal, that I couldn’t even wrap my head around it. Because I don’t buy into the whole Dominance/submission thing. Although Emmett swears there’s freedom for a submissive in giving the power to someone else, I can’t imagine how I could possibly feel free relinquishing my control. I’ve learned the hard way not to trust anyone. And while I’m certainly no prude, at least not in theory since I’ve never really had the opportunity to explore that side of myself in reality, the whole BDSM aspect of the show was more than a little intimidating, not to mention the thought of being so…exposed to millions of viewers.

Then I’d called my mom, and my hesitation faded. I hadn’t spoken to her in two years, not since she’d betrayed me by choosing to believe my stepfather over me. But I’d desperately wanted her to be there when I walked across the stage to accept my diploma, so I tentatively opened the door I thought I’d slammed shut forever and picked up the phone. My heart stutters a little at the memory of the thinly veiled joy and hope in her voice when she’d answered the phone. “Avalon! I’m so glad you called.”

Tears had filled my eyes at the sound of her voice and the reminder of a time when my world was whole. I’d wanted to ask her why she hadn’t believed me, why she hadn’t loved me enough to protect me. Instead, I’d asked if she was coming to my graduation.

There’d been a long silence on the other end of the line, and I’d willed myself not to beg her.

 “You really want Anthony and me to come?” she’d asked hesitantly.

 “No, Mom. Just you. Anthony is not welcome anywhere near me,” I’d answered, my voice steely.

She’d sighed then. “Avalon, it’s been two years since what happened, or what you think happened. When are you going to move on and let it go? He misses you, you know.”

I take a deep breath, consciously relaxing my death grip on the armrest of the airplane seat at the memory.

I’d told her not to worry, that it would be long and boring, and of course I understood if she couldn’t come. Never mind that I’m her only child and graduating with honors from NYU despite everything that has happened to me.

 “Avalon, try to understand,” she’d pleaded. “He’s my husband. I took vows before God to be one with him and support him. Besides, he’s been good to me…good to us. I’d come on my own, but you know how anxious I get flying. Besides, the primary election is in less than a month, and Tony’s got to be very careful about his image right now. It wouldn’t look good if I went to his stepdaughter’s graduation without him.”

 “Well, I certainly wouldn’t want to hurt his reputation at this crucial point,” I’d said sarcastically.

 “Oh, thank you for understanding, Ava,” she’d said, her voice relieved. “It means so much to me. You know I’ll be there in spirit, sweetheart.”

I’d hung up the phone woodenly, swiping away angry tears and damning Anthony Sanderson for having such control over my mom and still keeping her from me. He was worried that being conspicuously absent from his stepdaughter’s college graduation would damage his run for the presidency? Ha. If he was so concerned about that, I wondered how he’d feel about his stepdaughter being on a kinky pay-per-view reality show.

Realization of the power I held hit me with empowering clarity, and my mind was unequivocally made up. I’d go on the show and finally be able to do the one thing that had given me a purpose to live for the past two years—I’d fucking ruin the man who had stolen my life from me.

That had been a month ago. I’d celebrated finishing my last final exam by drinking a bottle of wine and filling out the questionnaire required by the Helix Corporation for all participants in the Power Games. I’d breezed through the basic information, medical forms, the consent and release of liability, and even the contract I had to sign agreeing I’d have no contact with the outside world during the filming of the show. It didn’t matter to me; the only person I really cared about staying in contact with would be there with me anyway.

The BDSM Activities Appendix with its hard and soft limits had been another story. I’d had to look up half the things listed, putting a big fat check in the “no” box next to knife play, anything to do with blood, needles, electricity, golden showers, and breath play. In fact, just to make sure there’d be no misunderstanding, I’d printed a little hell above each box. The rest of the list had been a bit more ambiguous, and in the end, I’d just gotten tipsy and checked yes to everything else. I can trust Emmett.

The rest of the month had passed in a whirlwind of activity—graduation, boxing up our apartment, and attending to a laundry list of things to do before going on the show, including making an appointment with my gynecologist to be tested for God knows what, changing my ticket from Miami to Las Vegas, and packing. I’d also indulged in a little preshow shopping with the guilt check my mom had sent me for graduation, and the irony of Senator Sanderson’s money paying for my entire wardrobe for the show was enough incentive to make me actually cash it.

And now I’m finally here, ready to implement my plan to ruin my stepfather. The plane skids to a stop, mimicking my heart at the thought of exactly what that’s going to entail. I take a deep breath before I spiral headlong into hysteria. I can do this.

A limousine picks us up at the airport, and we make the short drive to the Las Vegas strip in relative silence, Emmett and I both lost in our own thoughts. My heart beats a quick tattoo as we pull into the circular driveway in front of the Helix. The driver opens the door and extends his hand to help me out, telling Emmett he’ll have our bags delivered to our room. Emmett grabs my hand as we go through the thick glass doors, but I’m not sure if it’s to reassure me or so we’ll look like a real couple.

“Wow!” I breathe. The pictures on the website don’t do it justice. The hotel is beyond sumptuous and even more beautiful in person. The lobby is the perfect marriage of sin and luxury, with towering arched ceilings inlaid with gold, black marble floors, elegant pillars, and a double spiral staircase that leads to the second floor. The color scheme is a sophisticated mix of gold and black accentuated with bold slashes of deep crimson.

I try not to gape at the soaring, intricately carved gold ceiling as an attractive blonde wearing a simple black dress and a unique silver necklace walks across the lobby to meet us, her heels clicking against the black marble.

“Welcome to the Helix,” she says in a soft, cultured voice. “Your names, please?”

“Emmett Stone and Avalon Summers.” Emmett answers for both of us, his voice deepening in response to her appreciative gaze.

I roll my eyes. I have yet to meet a woman on this planet who’s immune to Emmett’s charms.

She consults the tablet in her hand, touches the screen several times, and then looks up with a smile. “Excellent. Welcome to the Helix and the Power Games. My name is Rachel. I’ll show you to your room shortly so you can get settled. All contestants will meet back here in the lobby at six o’clock for a formal tour of the hotel, followed by dinner in the Sapphire Room. Attire is street casual, so you can save the good stuff for the cameras.” She gives me a conspiratorial wink, and I smile back tentatively.

“Tomorrow we’ll begin the first of several elimination processes to select the final twenty-eight contestants, but there’ll be more information on that at dinner.” She looks at Emmett. “Would you prefer one of our regular suites with a king-size bed on a pedestal or one of our king-size dungeon beds with a cage underneath?”

“What the—” I start in horror, but Emmett squeezes my hand in silent warning. I close my mouth.

“I’d like to see them both, if I may,” he says politely.

“Of course. Right this way.”

Emmett and I carry on an entire conversation without saying a word as we follow Rachel to the bank of glass elevators. My single horrified look says what the fuck? while Emmett is placating with a raised brow and a nod, a pointed reminder of why we are here. I try to keep my face impassive as Rachel ushers us into a beautifully decorated suite and points out the bed, which, as she implied, really has a small barred cage with a door built into the platform underneath. It’s just big enough for a person to lie down in, with a removable thick black satin pad in the bottom.

Emmett nods. “Interesting,” he says as if he’s actually considering the room. After a long pause, he adds, “But I think we’ll take the regular suite.”

She shows us to a regular suite, which is just as opulent as the rest of the hotel, with floor-to-ceiling windows that can go from clear to opaque with the push of a button, a bathroom that’s almost as big as Emmett’s and my entire apartment, and an enormous black-lacquered four-poster bed on a raised platform surrounded by a canopy with black drapes gathered at the four corners. And the ceiling! It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before, with an intricately scrolled inset made of gold. As soon as she leaves, I collapse onto the bed.

“What the hell kind of place is this? Are there Doms who actually expect their subs to sleep in those cages like a dog?” I ask, still shocked.

“It’s a turn-on for some women,” Emmett says mildly. “It can remind a sub of her place and her dependency on her Dom; it’s possibly the ultimate form of surrender. But it’s definitely not for everyone. Just try to keep an open mind, Ava.”

I take a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Okay. I just feel like I’m in a little over my head.”

He crosses the room and sits on the bed next to me, pulling me to him in a comforting hug. “You don’t have to do this,” he reminds me gently. “It’s not too late to back out.”

“Yes, it is,” I say firmly. “I have no money and no place to live for the summer. But most importantly, I want to screw over Anthony Sanderson as much as he screwed me over. I’m in this for as long as I can make it last, no matter what.”