22

LAURA CHILVERS GROANED and rolled onto her side.

She immediately regretted it. Her groans became deeper, visceral, and she was clearly in great pain. She breathed heavily but didn’t dare to open her eyes. She moaned like a hurt animal and held her hand to her dry lips. She tasted blood. Her eyes flew painfully open. Her stomach convulsed and she nearly retched, dry-heaving as if she was choking. But after a moment or two, she stopped and gulped some air into her lungs. She closed her eyes again. It was pitch-dark but somehow the lack of perspective, and any awareness of where she was, made her head spin and the nausea rise in her throat again. She took a couple of deep breaths to calm herself and ran her other hand over her body. She was naked apart from a pair of ripped cami-knickers. She rubbed her sore hand over the smooth, silky fabric of them and groaned again.

She took some more deep breaths and put her hand to one side and almost sighed with relief. She could feel the familiar outline of her radio alarm clock on her bedside cabinet. She was home at least, and in her own bed. She knew that much, if little else. She reached tentatively around her, but no one else was there. She contemplated switching on the light but thought better of it. The throbbing in her head was getting worse if anything. As if someone had taken an ice-pick and was tapping away on it, the pain spiking through her head like a pulse. It was a pulse, of course, she knew as well as anyone what the brain did when exposed to too much alcohol, too many drugs.

Christ, she couldn’t remember what she had taken. Couldn’t remember anything much at all. Had her drinks been spiked? She was certainly displaying the symptoms of having taken Rohypnol. She had had the rape-kit out far too many times not to recognise the symptoms.

She rolled over to her side once more, cradling the pillow under her head, and tried to remember.

Think!

Late night. Flashes of memory were coming back.

She had been looking through her office window as the snow had started to fall. She had locked the door, pulled the curtain across and changed her clothes. Her hand went to her thigh again. She remembered stripping completely out of her work clothes. Looking at herself in the mirror and admiring her taut and toned body. She had put a hand to her chest, her nipples stiffening as she ran a nail across her right breast.

She remembered turning round and looking at her bottom. She worked out every day at the gym, or at home, and she was not displeased with the results. She didn’t consider herself a narcissist but treated her body like a temple. A temple of pleasure. Her Scandinavian heritage coming into play probably. She had moved her hand around and cupped her bare sex, smiling as she did so. Knowing that Slimline Dave Matthews was just beyond the locked door with DC Cartwright. What would they make of her? she had wondered. She had laughed and opened the small case she had brought with her, snapping open the locks and taking out a pair of deep purple, silk cami-knickers.

In her bed she ran her hand over her bottom again, gasping involuntarily as her fingers lingered over the thick welts. She moved her hand upwards. Welts criss-crossed her back, her buttocks, her upper thighs.

She reached out to her bedside cabinet, and found a glass of water. Her eyes had adjusted a little now and she could just about see it. She opened the drawer, fumbled for a couple of ibuprofen tablets from the pressed foil and swallowed them. Then took a long drink of water. She breathed a little, took another gulp, replaced the glass and lay back on the pillow, closing her eyes. Remembering.

Disjointed images flashed into her mind. Strobe lights. Sounds. Distorted music. The music was a physical thing. Sensual. The light and sound surrounded Laura. She felt like a goldfish in a surrealist fish tank. The other clubbers shimmering around her like a shoal of shiny creatures. Decked out in leather or rubber or PVC. Dominatrixes, slave outfits. Policewomen, schoolgirls, masters and schoolboys, maids and mistresses. One woman walked past wearing a ring-mistress outfit complete with red shorts, top hat and long whip. She looked like Amanda Holden, but Laura guessed she wasn’t. She looked down at the glass she held in her hand. A large shot of Absolut vodka over ice. She swirled the glass, just about hearing the clink and tinkle of the ice over the heady music and the loud chatter surrounding her. She tilted her head back and downed the shot in one.

‘Prosit!’

The man beside her at the bar was in his thirties and smiling at her. He was wearing tight, black leather shorts and that was all. He had hairless, sun-bronzed skin and short cropped white hair. His excitement was all too evident.

She looked him up and down. ‘Fuck off!’ she said.

‘Was just going to offer you a drink,’ he replied.

‘Now!’ said Laura and turned her back on him, holding out her shot glass to the barmaid, who was dressed as a Bavarian waitress from a beer cellar. ‘Hit me!’ she said.

‘I thought you’d never ask.’

Laura sighed and turned back to the man. ‘Run along and play with someone else. I don’t do men.’

‘Pity.’

‘Not for me.’

She turned away and sipped on her new drink. Swirling the ice and remembering what the homeless man had said to her. Her hand shook as she finished the drink and held it out again.

‘Hit me again, Heidi.’

After a while she lost track of time, and Laura felt the warm, familiar buzz. But it hadn’t taken the edge off her thoughts, it had intensified them. The vodka didn’t seem to be doing the job. She picked up the short riding crop she had laid on the bar and held it tightly in her grip.

She became aware of another presence beside her and turned round. It was the woman she had met the week before, Nicola French. Petite and blonde with fine porcelain-like skin and large, expressive baby-blue eyes above her chiselled cheekbones. Her lips were painted the colour of strawberries with a glossy sparkling layer added. Laura felt like sinking her teeth into them and biting them. The woman was dressed like a Roman slave girl. Her hair was coiled in plaits, a gold chain around her thin neck. A silky, diaphanous shoulderless gown gaped open and revealed her breasts. Breasts that had had the nipples painted and glistened like her lips. The skirt of the dress fell just below her waist. She wore high-heeled, golden sandals on her feet and a chain around her waist.

‘Sorry I’m late,’ she said.

‘You will be, Nicola!’ said Laura, noticing the nipples on the younger woman’s breast harden.

‘I’ll make it up to you?’

‘Do you like to be disciplined?’ asked Laura, stroking the tip of her crop against Nicola’s breasts.

‘Yes,’ said the younger woman with a breathless sigh.

‘Yes, what?’ barked Laura and flicked the tip against her nipple.

‘Yes, mistress,’ she said. ‘If it please you.’

‘Tonight just might be your lucky night then,’ said Laura as she slipped her left hand under Nicola’s mini-skirted dress.

‘Thank you, mistress.’

Laura leaned in and whispered in her ear. ‘You are not wearing any panties, Nicola,’ she said.

‘No, ma’am’

‘Good girl. But that is very, very naughty!’ The woman gasped as Laura worked a finger into her. ‘I think you are going to have to be punished, very, very severely.’

‘Yes, ma’am.’

‘Shush.’ Laura removed her hand from under Nicola’s skirt and put her finger in her mouth. ‘From now, on you speak only when I give you permission.’

The younger woman’s eyes dilated with desire and excitement. Something was dancing in Laura’s eyes too. But it was a desire of a completely different nature.

‘Come with me then,’ she said and led Nicola away from the main room.

Laura took another glass of water, squeezing her eyes shut trying to remember what happened next.

She swung her legs over the bed and held her head down, not noticing the tears that splashed onto her red and welted thighs.

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