Chapter 1“You’ve been staring out the window for ten minutes,” said Sabrina. “Since the view isn’t that exciting, you must be taking a mental trip. Where’d you go? Tahiti? I’d go to Tahiti. I bet it’s not raining in Tahiti.”
“I think it rains in Tahiti, too,” Rachel Law answered, but in an absent tone. She continued to stare blindly out the window at the drizzle that was characteristic of Seattle’s winter weather.
“Winter’s getting to you,” Sabrina said. “And it’s worse for you than it is for me, because you’re a blonde. Blondes are supposed to have more fun. You are not having fun. You work all the time because you wanted that promotion, and you got it, and now you’re just staring out the window wondering if it rains in Tahiti. You need to do something fun.”
“Fun.” Rachel wondered if Sabrina had a point. When was the last time she’d done something just for fun? Lately she’d had the nagging sense that something was missing. The promotion hadn’t cured it. Maybe what she was missing was fun.
Dark-haired Sabrina Daniels wasn’t heading for early burnout, and she was always taking off to either ski or sail on weekends, depending on the season. She also liked to skydive. And lately she’d been mentioning cruises a lot.
Skiing and sailing weren’t really Rachel’s ideas of fun, and the very thought of skydiving nauseated her, but a cruise had potential. Seattle was a popular place for cruises to start and stop. It’d be convenient and easy to book a short cruise. Rachel considered the possibility. “Maybe I should do that three-day Baja cruise you were talking about.”
“Excuse me. Are you Rachel? Rachel Law? Or have aliens taken over your body and left a strange being in place who wants to experience planet Earth outside of this office?”
“Ha ha,” said Rachel. She stopped staring out the window and turned to look at Sabrina. “I like having a corner office. I worked hard for this office. I sold a lot of insurance to get this office.”
“Yes, you are the golden girl, and the home office loves you.” Sabrina picked a random award off the top of Rachel’s bookcase and buffed it with her sleeve. “You’re number one. You are now the regional sales manager, and you left three of the top men in this company choking on your dust. I’d envy you, since I’m destined to remain forever number two and in your shadow, but I’m not the one who says ‘fun’ in a voice that sounds like you’ve forgotten what it is.”
Sabrina probably had a lot of fun, Rachel thought wistfully. Fun that included the opposite sex. There had been a man involved on more than a few of her ski trips, and Rachel suspected they hadn’t spent much time on the slopes. And there was another man Rachel was pretty sure hadn’t just liked to take Sabrina sailing.
Although now that she thought about it, over the five years she’d known the outgoing brunette, a couple of men didn’t seem like very many. And how long had it been since Sabrina had mentioned the most recent man?
“What happened to Richard?” Rachel asked, wondering when he’d faded out of the picture and why she hadn’t noticed. Of course she’d been busy, but—too busy to notice who her closest friend was dating?
“The truth?” Sabrina put the sales award back down and threw herself into the comfortable leather chair on the opposite side of Rachel’s desk so that they faced each other over the gleaming cherry expanse. “I asked him to play pirate and Spanish prisoner with me. I should have known better. Richard was not adventurous or creative in bed. Of course he wouldn’t be interested in role-playing.”
“I thought he was interested in you,” said Rachel.
“Well, I thought so, too, but not interested enough. My fantasy of playing captive while he played pirate on his boat went down like the Titanic. Richard couldn’t get rid of me fast enough. He suddenly remembered a presentation he had to make on Monday and never called again. I called once, and he was too busy to talk. Said he’d call back. That was in September.”
Sabrina swung one leg back and forth, pausing to admire her shoes midswing. “I don’t think he’s going to call back. Do you?”
“Forget Richard,” said Rachel. “Tell me about the Spanish prisoner thing.”
“He’s forgotten. And I’m not a deviant or anything.” Sabrina pouted, managing not to look like an idiot in the process.
Rachel was pretty sure if she tried to pout, she’d look like a sulky six-year-old. Sabrina just looked sexy as she continued, “But, you know, those pirates had English authority to seize ships, and of course they seized Spanish ships because they had the gold. Suppose an innocent and sheltered Spanish maiden happened to be on board, where she’d fall into the hands of a wicked pirate . . .” Sabrina let the sentence trail off and waggled her eyebrows suggestively.
Rachel sat up, fascinated. “He’d carry her off. She’d be his prisoner. And he’d try to be noble at first, maybe, but she’d have to stay in his cabin because there would be all those unruly, sex-starved crewmen.”
“Right.” Sabrina grinned at her. “Or maybe he’d just order her to his cabin to strip and tell her she’d better be good in bed, amazing, the best he’d ever had, or he’d give her to the first mate. Who would of course be hot, and hung, but not quite as hot as the captain. Ooh, maybe she’d have to do both of them. At the same time.”
Rachel felt her eyebrows shoot up along with her body temperature and her interest level. “Kinky.”
“Hot.” Sabrina fanned herself with an insurance flyer. “If I keep talking about this, I’m going to need to buy more batteries on my way home.”
Sabrina wasn’t the only one, Rachel thought. She couldn’t remember when she’d last replaced the batteries in the bullet vibrator Sabrina had given her two years ago for Christmas, saying that naughty girls needed something from Santa, too. After this conversation, she was going to need the bullet operational.
She dragged herself back to the present with an effort. “So you told Richard about this and he ran away?”
That seemed unbelievable. It was one hot fantasy. Why hadn’t it gotten Richard’s attention? It certainly had hers.
“He ran like an Olympic track star. But it’s okay, I’m not bitter. I stole three of his accounts the next week.” Sabrina gave her a feline smile outlined with cinnamon lipstick. Rachel found herself grinning back and then laughing out loud.
“Spanish prisoner,” said Rachel when she’d stopped giggling. “Now that sounds fun. Too bad I can’t book a cruise with that package.”
“Well . . .” Sabrina gave her a thoughtful look. “Maybe you can. Look at this.” She reached for her slim leather briefcase, pulled out a brochure, and tossed it onto Rachel’s desk.
Rachel picked it up. “The Capture Agency? What is that, something to do with image capture technology?”
“Oh, my God.” Sabrina rolled her eyes. “You have officially been working too hard for too long. It’s a dating agency. Computerized matching. Very accurate, very expensive, and very . . . unusual.”
Unusual. Rachel opened the glossy brochure and started reading. She blinked a few times. Then she checked to make sure her jaw wasn’t resting on her elegant cherry desk, straightened up, and looked at Sabrina. “This can’t be for real.”
“Oh, but it is. I picked up the brochure when Richard proved such a disappointment. The thing is, capture and bondage fantasies are very, very popular, but how do you find a partner who’s into acting them out? I mean, you can’t just bring it up at an office party. And casual dating, you don’t want to risk bringing up something like that with someone you don’t know well.”
Sabrina tapped the brochure with one long polished nail, painted to match her lips. “The Capture Agency is the answer. All clients have to go through rigorous background checks, pass a complete physical, psychological profiling. The computerized matching is top-notch. They have a very high success rate for compatibility.”
“You’ve really checked this out,” said Rachel.
“Yep.” Sabrina picked up the glossy brochure and used it like a fan, batting her eyelashes at Rachel over it. “I decided I want to experience the fantasy, and I’m not likely to just stumble over a man who wants to play pirate and prisoner with me. I’ve already paid the agency fee, and I’m going in for my final round of compatibility questionnaires. I’m specifying that I want a man with a boat, too. Might as well go all the way.”
Go all the way. Rachel had a sudden, vivid image of going all the way with a fierce pirate. One who would use his dagger to cut her long, flowing dress all the way down the front and then order her to spread her legs. . . . She blinked and wondered when the office temperature had started to climb. It was winter. It shouldn’t feel like a sauna inside.
“You want to do it, don’t you?” Sabrina stopped playing with the brochure and sat forward, excitement making her brown eyes sparkle. “You don’t want to take a cruise. You want to sign up for a trip to Sexual Fantasy Island.”
“Maybe.” Rachel squeezed her thighs together in an effort to alleviate the aching place between them that had started to throb in a way that told her just how much the capture fantasy interested her. “How do I know I wouldn’t get set up with some kind of nut if I did this?”
“The screening,” Sabrina answered promptly. “Capture fantasies are about seduction, not violence. Men with criminal records, histories of violence, or showing psychological warning signs of anger problems are screened out. You don’t get that in the random dating pool.”
“True.” Rachel had to admit there were advantages to the agency approach. “Still, if I wanted a man to fulfill my fantasies, he’d have to be able to surprise me. That means he’d have to be smarter than me, or at least as smart. And I’m not average. That’s hard to find.”
“Yeah, we can’t all be Mensa candidates.” Sabrina rolled her eyes at Rachel. “Okay, so you want a man who’s a few steps above conversations about microbrewed beer and football. A man who could think of ways to surprise you. Makes sense to me; seduction begins between the ears. In the mind. If a man can’t engage your mind, it stands to reason he doesn’t have much chance of engaging the rest of you.”
“Which explains my social life lately,” Rachel muttered.
“No, working all hours to get that promotion explains your social life lately,” Sabrina countered. “There are plenty of men who are up to your speed. You just haven’t been talking to them. Or if you were, you were trying to get their company to give their employees Opal Life Insurance.”
“I’m sure it would have looked very professional to break off my presentation to ask if my prospect wanted to date me instead of becoming my new corporate account.”
Sabrina gave her an exasperated look. “My point is, you haven’t been paying attention to your social life. Until now. Now you’re showing an interest. That’s good. You have to start somewhere. Start with a date who will fulfill your fantasies.”
Rachel was showing a lot more than interest. She was pretty sure her panty hose was showing a telltale damp patch, and it was a good thing her lined skirt would hide the evidence.
A date who would fulfill her fantasies. Was it really possible? If it was, Rachel admitted to herself, an agency that specialized in matching compatible partners for fantasy fulfillment was her best bet, because Sabrina was right: It wasn’t the kind of thing she could bring up at an office party or with somebody she didn’t know well. Even if she met a man who wanted to capture her and make her his slave to passion, as the agency brochure worded it, neither of them could admit it in any normal social encounter.
Sabrina must have seen the look on Rachel’s face that said she was ready to buy because the brunette leaned in to close the sale. “Come on, Rachel. You want this. You deserve this. What do you have to lose?”
“Five thousand dollars,” Rachel answered promptly, quoting the agency fee.
“You can afford it,” Sabrina said, dismissing that objection. “But do you know what I think you can’t afford? To keep going on the way you have been. Work is wonderful, Rachel, but it won’t keep you warm at night. And living out this fantasy would create enough heat to set your bed on fire. I can see how much you want to do it. So, do it. If the agency can’t match you with a compatible man, they’ll give you a full refund. It’s right here in their policy statement.”
Rachel read the statement Sabrina pointed to. “Satisfaction guaranteed?” She felt her lips twitch with barely suppressed humor.
“Well, they don’t guarantee that you’ll have great sex. Besides the fact that it’s outside their control, there are legal implications to that. But they do guarantee that they’ll provide you with a compatible match.”
“Or a full refund?” The question from Rachel’s doorway made both women turn. Emma Michaels, their office manager, stood there looking as if the file folders in her hands were the last thing on her mind. The first thing was apparently the brochure Sabrina and Rachel were focused on.
“Um, Emma, I’m not sure—” Rachel broke off and wondered how to avoid telling the woman who’d never slept with any man but her husband and had probably never owned anything battery-powered that wasn’t a household appliance that they were talking about a dating agency for people who wanted to have kinky sex. “Thing is, it’s a dating agency, Emma.”
“For people who want to act out captor and captive fantasies. I heard.”
Rachel blinked. “I don’t think your husband would approve of you signing up.”
“I don’t think it’s any of his business if I want to date. He lost the right to disapprove when he slept with his assistant,” Emma said.
Rachel looked at Sabrina and mouthed, Did you know about this?
Sabrina gave an almost invisible negative shake of her head in response.
So Emma’s bombshell was a surprise to both of them. It did explain why Emma had become so uncharacteristically tense and silent. Rachel had suspected some trouble at home, but not on that scale.
“I’m sorry,” Rachel said, her voice softened with sympathy. “But Em, you don’t need to be hasty. You’ve never been with anybody else, and this might not be the best time for you to jump in at the deep end of the dating pool. You could start smaller, take a baby step.”
Emma flinched visibly at the word baby. “No, thank you. I’m done waiting. I’m done asking for permission instead of asking for what I want. I may have failed in bed and in my marriage, but I don’t have to fail myself. I don’t have to repeat my mistakes.” She took a deep breath, composing herself. “The fantasy date would be like a practice partner. I can explore what I really want, find out where I went wrong. Then maybe the next time around, if there is a next time, I can get it right.”
Sabrina nodded, understanding clear in her expression. “That’s not bad thinking. Have a fling under very clear and very safe circumstances. No misunderstandings, no complications.”
Emma set her chin in a determined line. “Exactly.”
Sabrina had a good point, Rachel decided. If Emma was going to walk on the wild side, at least she’d be doing it in a way that was least likely to get her hurt. And wasn’t that what had pushed her own decision over the edge? The opportunity to have an adventure in safe circumstances? Gauging risk was her occupation, and as far as she could see, the risks posed by the Capture Agency were minimal.
“Well, I guess it’s unanimous,” Rachel said. “Here’s to our fantasies, and the men who will fulfill them.” She raised an imaginary glass in a toast, and the other two women followed suit. Copyright © 2008 by Charlene Teglia. All rights reserved.