Forbidden Fires (Bondage & Breakfast)
Author:Jodie Griffin

chapter Three

Colin winced at the way the words came out. Less than five minutes into his decision to be careful about how he treated Delia and what he said to her, and he’d already blown it. It wasn’t his fault, though. Who wouldn’t react to a chandelier with hanging dicks?

He hadn’t been upstairs before, so he followed Delia into the Wests’ bedroom, where she drew on a pair of thin latex gloves. Elizabeth and Jake West had expensive tastes, he mused as they wandered around the opulent room. A little girly for his tastes, but he couldn’t deny the appeal of it.

Obviously, Delia agreed. “Get a load of that bed,” she said, letting out a low whistle. “You could lose a family of ten in it.” She opened one of two doors, and came to a dead halt. “Wow. I could so use one of these.”

“Walk-in closet?” he asked.

“Monster bathroom,” she answered, her voice awed. “I want that tub.”

He came up behind her and looked over her shoulder. He blinked, nonplussed. “That’s not a tub. It’s a swimming pool, with one hell of a view.” The whirlpool tub ran along one full wall of the bathroom and was done in marble. Lush green plants lined the edge of the tub, which sat in front of an entire windowed wall that overlooked the river. Randomly sized white candles sat grouped on a ledge just above the plants.

Delia stepped further into the bathroom and began examining the cabinets and their contents.

As she passed by the tub again, Colin had no problem imagining her naked, ready to join him for an erotic swim, stepping into the water. Or out of it, with frothy water sluicing over her generous breasts and between her thighs, as he held a towel out for her.

“Oh my God, look at this.”

Her voice ripped him right out of his fantasy. Damn good thing too, or else he’d wind up having to apologize to her for the erection he couldn’t seem to lose. Again.

The awe was back in her voice and, as he turned, he could see why. The shower was a hedonist’s dream. On the opposite wall, but nearly as long as the tub, a glass-enclosed shower faced the window. Eight large showerheads hung along the wall, evenly spaced. In the middle, a recessed space held soap, shampoo and conditioner. At one end of the enclosure were a bench and a handheld shower nozzle, along with two hooks that he assumed were for washcloths. The other side was open, with a glass partition that protected a stack of fluffy white bath towels.

She stepped into the shower, and Colin had to slam the lid down on his errant thoughts, hard. He forced himself to focus on the investigation. “See something?”

“Just checking a hunch,” she said, her voice muffled through the glass.

Curious, he watched her work. One of the things that’d attracted him to Delia was her single-minded focus on her work. When she was in investigation mode, she seemed to slip into another zone.

She rifled through the towels, slid a drawer open and nodded once. He had no idea what that meant, but he kept watching, captivated by her intense focus. She looked at the bottles in the recessed part of the wall, then moved on to the bench. She knelt down and discovered two more hooks, although these were nearly level with the floor. He wasn’t sure what they were for.

She stepped back out of the shower and walked over to the cabinet beneath the sink. She closed the door, stood and faced him, an intrigued look on her face.

“Going to share, Detective?”

“Not yet. I want to check the rest of the bedroom first.”

He stifled the need to press her. It was in everybody’s best interests for him to let her do her job, and he remembered from last year that she worked better at her own pace. The way her mind worked—and the great results she got—was the reason he’d asked his boss to borrow her for this job.

She searched through dressers, nightstands and the closet. As she investigated each area, her excitement seemed to grow. It added a heated flush to her cheeks, reminding him of the way she always looked after they’d made love.

Shit. He really had to stop thinking about her this way. They were over. Been there, done that, boot print on his ass to prove it. And for all he knew, she was involved with someone else right now. Something tightened low in his gut, but he refused to acknowledge it.

“So here’s what I see,” she said, derailing his runaway train of thought. “Isolated mansion, extra large bedroom, an enormous bed, and a tub and shower just as excessive.”

He nodded. “I get it. This couple lives large. So?”

“That’s part of it. Do you know what kind of art they have?”

He frowned and flipped through the file in his hand. “Sculptures and paintings.”

“Yes, I get that part,” she retorted, her eyes alight with the thrill of the chase, her voice sharp with demand. “Any mention of the subjects?”

“No, why?”

“Just trying to fill in some blanks in my head.” She smiled then, and the brilliance in it dazzled him and charmed him all over again, in spite of himself. “We need to get that from the cops who questioned the owners. It’s probably in that missing report. But I’ll lay odds I know what kind of art it is.”

“Excuse me?” he asked, curiosity outweighing his frustration.

“Erotic art. The Wests are into kink.”

He blinked. “How the hell could you know that?”

“Evidence. And experience. Do me a favor,” she said, tossing him a pair of gloves. “Go to the opposite side of the bed. I need you to help me lift the mattress.”

Still trying to process what she was saying—and what the hell she meant by experience—he gloved up, then lifted his end of the mattress and stared down at the thick, sturdy black straps underneath it. He looked back at Dee’s satisfied expression. “What the hell are those?”

“Restraints. As in tied-to-the-bed bondage restraints.” Together they lowered the mattress. “That’s not all I found. There are wrist and ankle cuffs and a few sex toys in the linen closet, under the towels in a drawer. The hooks at floor level are for ankle restraints. The ones on the side are for wrist restraints. I also found a hook in the ceiling, either for restraints, or for what I found under the sink.”

He cleared his throat and blinked. “Which was...?”

“An enema kit. A bottle of lube. An anal plug.”

Unbelievably, he felt himself blush as his body reacted to her words. “Jesus, Delia.”

“Oh, come on, Colin. You’re not really that much of a prude, are you?”

He scowled. “You know I’m not. It’s just...”

“That you don’t expect to hear those words from me, right?” When he nodded, her attitude turned snarky. “This is an investigation and you brought me into it, so you’re obviously looking for my input. Well, here it is. Deal with it.”

This time, it was his temper that spiked. “Don’t put words into my mouth. I don’t have a problem with it. I value your expertise. But forgive me if I get a hard-on from listening to a woman I’ve been naked with talking about anal plugs and bondage restraints.”

Shock flared in her eyes, eyes that dropped to the bulge in his pants, making him even harder. Frustration should’ve tempered his reaction, but apparently not around her. He gritted his teeth. “So how does this tie in to the investigation?”

Delia sighed, looking deflated—and duly chastised. “I don’t know. Maybe it doesn’t. Let’s see what the rest of the house has to offer up.”

Colin followed her through other rooms, letting the discovery stew in his brain for a bit. He couldn’t see how this related to the case, but you never knew when a piece of information might become valuable. As they started down the wide staircase, he looked up at the gaudy chandelier again. He pointed. “Part of their art collection, if you’re right?”

“Probably,” she replied. “Look at the cross that runs through the center of it. It’s in the shape of a St. Andrew’s Cross. And the chains wrap around each spoke, like a body would be bound to it.”

“How do you know all of this?” he asked, his curiosity getting the better of him. At the surprise that flitted across her face, he backtracked. “I know. Not my business. But you seem to know a lot about, as you put it, kink.”

Her face flamed, but her words were matter-of-fact. “I told you, experience. I’ve worked a lot of crime scenes.”

He wasn’t buying it, but he wouldn’t push now. One of these days, though, he was going to find out how his former lover knew so much about sexual bondage.

* * *

Delia’s body flashed hot at the determined look in Colin’s eyes. She hadn’t thought before she’d spoken, and she’d given away far more than she’d expected to. Shit, she seriously needed to learn to think before she opened her big mouth. He was right about one thing, though. It wasn’t his business. Not anymore. He’d given up that right a year ago, when they’d parted ways.

On the second level, she took quick looks in the other rooms, but didn’t see anything else interesting. It appeared most were guest rooms. One looked as if it had been occupied recently, but other than a rumpled bed, there was nothing out of place.

By the time they reached the ground level of the house, Colin was antsy. “Something bothering you?” she asked.

He rolled his head and cracked his neck. “This is getting us nowhere.”

She sighed at the petulant tone of his voice. “Impatient much? How about showing me the fire scene?” She almost laughed when his eyes lit up.

“Sure. Be careful and watch where you step. A lot of water damage here, and some structural damage.”

She followed behind Colin, her eyes cast toward the floor so she didn’t trip over any of the debris. But she could still see the strong muscles at play under his uniform pants, and the enticing curve of his perfectly shaped ass. Her fingers itched to touch, but she countered that insane desire by tucking her hands into her pockets. The inappropriate thoughts made her voice husky. “Tell me what I’m looking at.”

“This room was where the pipe bombs were tossed. Looks as though the suspect tossed at least one through each window. The forensics team is still trying to determine how many, and what they were made of. I’ve seen before pictures of this room. A lot of fabrics, wood floors, wood furniture. The fireplace was gas, and it ignited. The resulting explosion caused these char marks,” he said, pointing to the surrounding walls, “and the hole in the floor. Smoke and flames poured through it, to the room directly beneath this one, in the basement. The Wests are lucky this room is mostly separate from the rest of the house, or they could’ve lost everything.”

“The report says they were in their basement when the blast occurred. Is that directly below this?”

“Yes. I’ll take you down there. The steps are unstable, so let me go down first.”

She wasn’t going to argue with him about that, but fear for his safety made her blurt out a warning. “Be careful.”

His eyes locked with hers for a long, tense moment. “I will.”

It was hard to maneuver down the staircase in the oversized boots she wore, but Colin waited for her and helped her over some of the rough spots. When they finally reached the bottom, she let out a relieved breath. “Well, gee. That was fun.”

His grin flashed. “I love this. Not the fact that people died or property was lost, but this part of the investigation, where we try to figure out whodunit. Anyway, the Wests say they were in this room with the door closed, watching an action movie with theater speakers on. There’s probably more info in the official report, but that’s what I got from one of the on-scene firefighters.”

She stepped past him and gaped as she took in the small theater with stadium-style leather seating and a genuine movie screen. “Someone has far too much money.”

“The fire charred the door, and the smoke had to have been rolling underneath it. I think that’s what finally alerted them. They had alarms, smoke detectors and sprinklers, but none of them worked. And this room is soundproof.”

Water had destroyed the carpet and the movie screen. Delia walked to the front, and looked back toward the door. “I don’t see any kind of projection room. I wonder what they use to run their movies?”

“Does it matter?”

“Curiosity more than anything. Where did they find the two who died?”

“Across the hallway in the workout room. One was trapped by fallen beams and debris from the explosion. The other was near the door and died from smoke inhalation. According to the report, the door was blocked. They had to use fire axes to break through it.”

She thought about it but still didn’t quite get the layout. “I’d like to see it.”

He led the way, and once again helped her maneuver around the debris. The acrid tang of smoke here was even more unpleasant, and with a start, she realized it had to be from the burned bodies. Her stomach rolled, and she stumbled.

“You okay?” he asked, grasping her arm. “You’re pale all of a sudden.”

“It’s just...that smell.” Her stomach heaved again.

He grimaced. “Not something you ever get used to. You want to take a break? Or finish up here? There’s not much else to see.”

Determinedly, she forced her professional self to the fore. “Finish. This arsonist isn’t going to wait for me to get over my wimpy stomach.”

“That’s my girl,” he said, a small smile teasing the corner of his lips.

Why that warmed her, she couldn’t say. But it did, and it helped to steady her too. She stepped into the hole created by the firefighters, and came stock-still. Only her eyes moved, darting around the room lighting on one spot, and then another. Her mind began to imagine, and for a long minute she thought maybe she was nuts. But even with all the fire damage, some things stood out. Things you wouldn’t find in your average workout room.

“This room looks soundproof too,” she said, and Colin confirmed it with a nod of his head. That would make sense, if she was right.

“Be careful,” he warned as she began to move around the room. “The floor is solid—it’s cement—but things overhead may still break free.”

She nodded, casting a wary eye up at the gaping hole in the ceiling. She slid some of the debris on the floor with her foot, and something shiny caught her attention in the pile of charred material. She used her boot to unearth it, and her heart pounded. She just might be right. “Hand me an evidence bag, would you?” she asked.

“What did you find?” Colin came up behind her, the nearness of his large body searing hers with heat.

She bent to pick up the mangled piece of glass and metal, then turned, holding out her hand. “I think it’s a piece of a video camera.”

“You think they taped their workouts?”

“You could say that. I don’t see any weight machines or treadmills, do you?”

He looked around. “No, but maybe she dances, does yoga. Or maybe he’s into martial arts. That doesn’t necessarily require equipment. The mirrored wall would point to dance or something like that.”

She conceded his point, but it still wasn’t working for her. “Look against the wall, near where the floor caved in. Tell me what you see.”

His eyes followed where she pointed, and she watched as he tilted his head and examined the charred wood from this distance. The minute he caught her train of thought, he blinked. “Son of a bitch. That’s one of those crosses you talked about.”

“A St. Andrew’s Cross. Yes, I think so.”

Colin flipped through the photos and the notes from the original fire investigator. He swore again, holding one out for her to see.

It was gruesome, but it was clear. The cross had broken at the center of the X, but a body was trapped underneath it. “Did you find anything that would indicate the victim was bound to it?”

He shook his head in the negative.

“Could’ve been tied with rope that burned.” She pointed out the different things she saw. “Soundproof room. A video camera. And a theater across the hall. What if the camera was closed-circuit, and the people in the theater were watching a bondage scene going on in here? A Dom working his submissive?”

His eyes flared. “How could we have missed this?”

“I don’t think anyone missed anything. I think your focus was on other things, like the source of the fire. If I’d been at the scene that night, I’d probably have looked at it and seen someone crushed by a falling beam too. It doesn’t seem obvious until you take the bondage stuff upstairs into account too. And it may all just be conjecture, anyway,” she admitted. “Someone is going to need to tell us what happened in there.”

He stared at her for an uncomfortably long minute, and she resisted the urge to fiddle with her clothes or fumble with her purse. But she wasn’t the only one affected by the words, she realized with a start. The tips of Colin’s ears were flushed, and the same color highlighted his chiseled cheekbones.

“You’re right about that,” he said, his voice thick with something she couldn’t define. “And I think you’re just the woman to pull it all together.”