Sometimes, safety and danger can be the same person.
Gideon Orchard has enough baggage to fill a cargo ship. Two years ago, he left his abusive family, but the urges he’s always tried to suppress won’t be ignored any longer. Desperate to submit, he stumbles into a notorious fetish club…and right into the lap of its captivating manager.
Mal Brannon can’t believe his luck when sweet, scared, and determined Gideon falls into his arms, completely uneducated in BDSM culture and begging for proper instruction. Their romance intensifies more quickly than either of them expects, but an unsavory figure from Mal’s past threatens their relationship and their lives.
Running from the past may be tough, but escaping with their future will be harder.
Title: Bad Crowd
Series: Bad Crowd, Book One
Author: Chloe B. Young
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: 04/04/2023
Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex
Genre: Contemporary, contemporary, gay, romance, BDSM, clubs, new submissive/experienced Dom, age difference, sex toys, bondage, pain tolerance, family issues
Pink light dripped over the speckled sidewalk like a tongue, alive and coiling with the flickering of the sign. Gideon Orchard’s eyes had the letters burned into them, but he couldn’t look away, despite having read them every day for the past year.
They were brighter on this side of the street. The lurid neon tubes were weeping. Salivating.
He shivered, his skin buzzing. And buzzing again. And again—
“Hello?” The phone was cold against his ear, soothing the strange evening heat of the desert. “Evan?”
“Yeah, hi, sorry. We can’t come. Beth got too drunk, and she yacked everywhere.”
“Oh. That’s fine. Is she okay?”
On the other end of the line, something rubbed over the microphone, and then Gideon heard a pitiful moan and a hacking cough.
“Yeeeeeah, she’ll be good. She just has to sleep it off. Have a good time, though!”
Terror ripped through him. “No, I can’t—”
The beep in his ear signaled Evan’s exit, leaving Gideon alone on a street that wasn’t quite abandoned. At the traffic light, someone got off the bus Gideon took to and from work every day. They disappeared around the corner before he could think to hide in shame.
Gideon squeezed his eyes shut, his phone biting into his hand. That pain he could handle. It was familiar, useful for clearing his head. The ache in his chest was harder to shake.
Tonight was supposed to be fun. The culmination of weeks of teasing after he’d mentioned this place—Bad Co.—in passing in the lunchroom. His palms got sweaty when he remembered their mirth at his naivete.
“A bar,” Beth had crowed. “How cute are you?”
Beth and Evan were supposed to be here with him, laughing together like they always did, not letting Gideon in on the joke. He still wasn’t sure they’d ever intended to come here with him. He’d replay the sound of Beth’s retching in his head later, trying to discern if it was real or if they’d purposefully abandoned him outside a den of sin.
The light up at the intersection changed, and a little car with wings on the back buzzed past, buffeting Gideon with warm wind even as he reeled from the return of old habits.
There were no dens of sin. And if there were, they wouldn’t be located ten minutes from Gideon’s apartment, on a not-quite main street in Tucson.
Someone laughed, high-pitched and attention-seeking. Gideon turned around, stumbling over his feet in his haste not to be standing outside a place like that.
It was only when the laugh echoed away that Gideon stopped himself.
This couldn’t go on. The wondering. For months, it had built up in his gut every time he walked past, ever since Beth had told him it wasn’t a “normal” bar, but a place for freaks and perverts. On the way here, he’d stopped a dozen times and nearly turned around.
The sign was different in this light. Usually, it was off when he went by or dimmed by the morning light when he came home from the night shift.
He’d turned around to face it, he realized, without noticing. A moth to a lantern.
He couldn’t go on like this. Maybe—hopefully—it would be awful, and he wouldn’t get the release he worried he’d find, but at least he’d know.
The door swung open smoothly, then fell heavily behind him as he walked into a wall of sound. His eyes, sore from staring at the sign, watered at the change in light. There was none now that the haze of pink was gone, only a dim purple glow that grew brighter the longer he blinked.
A shape materialized from the darkness, and he almost went right back out the door he’d come in. But he stopped himself at the last moment, standing straight and unmoving except for the shaking of his tightly clenched fists.
Idle hands, his mother’s voice hissed in his ear. Two years out of her reach, and he still couldn’t break the habit of keeping them still. He’d considered trying, just to prove he could, but the risk was too great that he’d become addicted to the ridges of his scars passing under his fingertips. No. His hands would stay still at his sides as long as he could stand it.
“Hello,” he said, his voice steadier than he felt.
The bouncer’s voice rumbled through the blackness. “One?”
Their clothing matched. Gideon had to suppress a manic laugh as he yanked some bills out of his wallet. Their black T-shirts and jeans could have been purchased from the same store, if in very different sizes.
That was where the similarities ended.
Tall and short, dark skin and light, short-buzzed and stubbornly wavy hair, they were as different as they could be, but they’d both ended up here.
Probably for very different reasons.
“Through there,” the bouncer said, handing back a few bills.
Gideon would count them later when he could see the number and had time to worry about his budget. For now, he was too busy worrying about where there would lead him.
A curtain separated the dark-walled, boxy front area he’d been in, and the source of the purple light emanated from behind it.
Sumptuous was the word that first came to mind when he drew the drape back, revealing a foyer that belonged in a mansion, but an abandoned one without the warmth of a crackling fire in the next room.
Sinful was the next, but he swept it away, leaving it—and the person he’d been before this very moment—on the other side of the curtain.
The music was clearer here but still too loud and throbbing to be distinct.
Two women stood by a long, elegant bureau, a study in contrasts just like Gideon and the door man.
One was tall and rail thin, dressed for an office job. Splotches of blue and pink from the lights bounced off her dark, smooth cheekbones.
The other woman…
She was exactly what Gideon had pictured when Beth and Evan had described the place in detail, thinking to shock and educate the naive country boy. This woman was small, and she wore next to nothing except strips of black and so many spikes.
His tongue was thick in his mouth, and he nearly choked on it when those spikes glinted as she glided toward him.
“Hello,” she purred. “First time?”
Only the courtesy beaten into him allowed him to answer. “Yes.”
“Fun! What are you here for? It’s an open play night. No formal demos, just free reign on the floor equipment. The private rooms are all booked, but you can always hang around and see if someone wants to invite you in.”
Her lips glistened as if freshly moistened with something unspeakable, pursing as she waited for an answer he couldn’t give.
A clipboard appeared in her hand from somewhere, the edge flashing sharper than the shards of metal on her shoulders, and she tapped it with the daggers of her fingers. “So? It’s a bit of a maze back there, so I should really show you where you’re going. What are you looking for?”
His throat closed up, keeping the secrets inside. They were comfortable there, had made a home for themselves in a lonely, sunless part of his soul. Buried too deep, even here, where the promise of warmed skin and aching release was so close.
Need was too soft a word for how he yearned.
“I’ve got this one.”
It was the other woman, the tall one in a slim pencil skirt that wouldn’t look out of place at the old church. It fell obediently over her knees as she crossed the space.
“Whatever you say, Lenore.” The spiked woman went back to her clipboard.
“Welcome,” Lenore greeted him, coming to a stop milliseconds before Gideon would have backed up out of her reaching presence. From an invisible pocket in her blazer, she pulled three slim bands. “Which one do you want?”
He stared at them, draped over her hand innocuously. They all looked the same to him, except for their bright colors. He looked and looked, trying to interpret the right answer from her silent insistence, but had to admit, “I don’t know.”
She nodded as if he’d passed some kind of test he hadn’t studied for. “They let other people know what you’re looking for. Like a stoplight, see?” She flattened them out on her palm, pointing at each one. “Green, if you want to play. Yellow, if you’re not sure but wouldn’t mind being asked. Red, if you’re not interested in playing.”
He searched her face for humor, a joke he was missing to explain the repeated use of the word “play.” The spiky woman had used it too.
He’d seen pictures. He’d never been able to make himself read the words that went along with them—typing in keywords letter by letter had been hard enough with shaking hands—but nothing he’d ever seen was close to “playing.”
“Plaything,” maybe. A toy to be used and discarded. Not fun for anyone other than the capricious player. Something to be endured.
Dreadful want shuddered down his back, and he used its momentum to take the green bracelet from Lenore’s hand. He’d come this far. He wasn’t leaving until he’d been cleansed of the demons that kept him up at night.
Lenore watched him struggle with the piece of plastic for a few moments before seeming to take pity on him and fastening it around his wrist while he held still like a child.
“You can change your mind.”
Gideon’s fingers, already still and silent on the edge of the plastic, went tense. He looked to Lenore, who’d tilted her head, studying him.
“At any time, if you’d like a different wristband,” she said. “Just ask someone with a name tag.”
Surprise made his eyebrows furrow. It sounded so…clinical. He hadn’t expected the shadowy world he was entering to have name tags. It didn’t matter. They could dress it up, but this was still a place of sordid pleasure and pain inflicted on those who couldn’t stop craving it.
Lenore’s heels clicked as she stepped away, leaving room for her next question. “Are you ready?”
I read another of this author’s books, Worth It, back when it was released, and enjoyed it, so wanted to try a new series from this author. It was a much different book than that series.
Gideon and Mal had a insta-lust/insta-love happen when meeting in the kink club Mal was running. Gideon, coming from an extremely religious and abusive home finally has the courage to enter it, then has a scene with Mal almost immediately. I struggled with this a bit, because although they talked through some stuff, there were pieces that I felt would have been better served by having deeper discussions. They kept advancing their scenes, and even with a setback or two, moved onward. Their relationship became serious very quickly.
Mal, having lost both is parents, found a father of sorts in someone who was a mob boss. Somehow he was able to keep the business he ran for Nick clean? That seemed improbable to me. Especially with all the other “businesses” Nick ran, it just didn’t ring as realistic. I also struggled with Nick suddenly having issues with Mal, someone he had raised from a teenager to the man he was.
Gideon and Mal, once they found their rhythm became very much in sync, in their private lives, and put the other man first when things became untenable with Nick. They were able to make decisions together as a couple, even as Gideon learned about his submissive side.
The book was somewhat disjointed with their relationship being a big portion in the middle, then the issues with Nick on either end, and lightly sprinkled elsewhere. It didn’t help that the timeline felt a bit off in places, as well. Overall, the book was okay, but not something I would go back to re-read.
3.5 pieces of eye candy
Writing is just one of the many ways Chloe gets her storytelling fix. In her other life, she sings and acts to fulfil the urge, and is never far from a stage.
When not writing, Chloe cooks with too much garlic, sharpens her eyeliner to a deadly point, and tries to accept that she’s turning into one of those people who only wears one color. (Pink.)
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