By: Tara Crescent

Did I? I didn’t want to ever look lovely. Lovely was what got me abducted in a parking lot in Cleveland. It was better to look tough and ruthless.

“While some of you have done this before,” her eyes swept over us, and rested on a few women briefly, “many are new, so I want to go over the process once again.” She smiled. “While I’m sure you’ve heard it before, it can’t hurt to hear it once more, can it?”

I heard many of the women mutter “No, Madame Lorraine,” or something similar.

She nodded reassuringly. “Now, if you think your background check was extensive,” she chuckled, “let me assure you that the background check of the Dominants that are bidding tonight are ten times as exhaustive.” She made eye contact with each of us for a few seconds. “I know most of the men and women that will be bidding tonight personally. If I had any hesitation about any of them, they wouldn’t be invited here.”

I heard some relieved murmurs in the crowd, but I was less reassured than the other women. After all, I was in this room, though my entire cover story was fake. If I was able to get through, I didn’t think too much of Madame Lorraine’s vaunted background check process. But perhaps I wasn’t giving Lucien enough credit for how well he’d been able to architect my cover story.

“Now, as I’m sure you’ve been reminded over and over again, all the Dominants bidding on you will respect your hard limits list as well as your safe words.” She shot us all a steely look. It should have looked odd, coming from the short, plump woman. It didn’t. She owned that look.

“If, for any reason, you don’t want to go with the highest bidder,” she continued, “you can decline and you will be offered the option of the next-highest bidder and so on. While I’m completely sure that you have nothing to fear from the Dominants who will be bidding on you today, you must always remember to trust your own instincts.”

Eight years ago, in the parking lot of the Cleveland mall I worked in, I should have trusted my instincts. A thousand times, I’d walked to the faraway lot where employees were permitted without fear, but that day, for some unknown reason, a chill had nestled between my shoulders as I’d walked. I’d wanted to run but I’d sternly told myself not to be silly.

She looked at all of us again. “Here’s what’s going to happen. First, each of you will walk out onto the stage when you are called. Let everyone get a good look at you.”

A woman interrupted her and asked a question I too had thought of. “Madame Lorraine,” she spoke, her voice hesitant. “Will we be naked on stage?”

Madame Lorraine frowned, though I couldn’t tell if her displeasure was a result of being interrupted or because of the question asked. “Of course not,” she replied. “You are not cattle. You are women with wants and needs and desires. This is not a one-sided property purchase.”

In other words, Madame Lorraine was doing everything to make this seem as distinct as possible from a proper slave auction. I’d heard about those. There, the young girls, snatched away from their homes and families, were indeed examined like livestock.

“Once you’ve all been introduced, you’ll be led to your own private sitting area on the main floor. You’ll kneel on the floor and wait for the men and women that are interested in bidding on you to approach you.” She fixed us with a stern gaze. “Have a conversation with them. Talk to them about your concerns, if you have any. Let them talk to you about what they want and make sure it is something you want as well. I want everyone to be happy and I want everyone to be safe.”

Happy? I didn’t know what that was. I had a far-off memory of Lisa and Amber and I, giggling as we ate our peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches in the food court in the fifteen minutes we were allotted for lunch. But that memory was submerged under layers and layers of the woman I’d become, one who lived for revenge and nothing else.

And safe? Safety wasn’t a feeling I had experienced for eight years.

“Once that’s done,” Madame Lorraine continued, “I’d like you to wait in this antechamber. We don’t conduct our bidding openly here. I don’t hold with such theatrics for something that is a serious process.” For the first time since she’d stepped into our little chamber, her expression softened and her eyes turned wistful. “The bond between a Dominant and a submissive is a beautiful one. Any other questions?”

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