Amorous Entanglements

By Seiler

Part Two

Stepping onto the porch outside her second-floor apartment, Lauren felt an all too familiar ripple of vexation at having been living there so long. "Living" seemed too grand a word. She was subsisting at best, trapped in a dead-end Iowa town and crammed into a studio apartment in which, on sticky summer evenings like this one, she'd swear she detected ammonia fumes from the hair salon downstairs. Ugh! This evening, however, hope eclipsed vexation. The interview with Collette Sullivan would be the first step toward writing "Women in Magic," the book she envisioned would lift her to a higher plain of existence. She'd prove her parents wrong: Deferring marriage and family to pursue a writing career had not been a mistake. In a business skirt, nylons and high heels, the 27-year-old knew she cut a smart figure, and looking good bolstered her confidence.

She locked the door to the apartment and descended the stairs, surveying the parking lot in hopes that someone might notice her, particularly someone of the opposite sex. She had never had trouble drawing male attention. In fact, she often drew it even when she was trying to avoid it.

About four years earlier, an agent for a fashion-modeling firm spotted her in the stands at a college football game and offered her a job right there on the spot. Speaking with a French accent, he had stressed the need for Polish beauties. Lauren felt vaguely offended. How dare he, this total stranger, presume to identify her ethnic background! Secretly, though, she had to admire his perspicacity. Both her mother and her paternal grandmother were from Poland.

No one in the United States paid much attention to such distinctions anymore. Throughout her lifetime, Americans of lighter skin tone were commonly lumped together as "whites," denied preferential treatment in college and job applications, stigmatized as privileged, and then blamed for most of what went wrong in the lives of "non-whites." Apparently, though, finer distinctions still mattered in Europe.

"No, thank you!" she had snapped at the presumptuous foreigner. She had better things to do, she told him, than serve as an animated manikin for the display of women's apparel.

Smiling at the memory of it, she now sat down behind the wheel of her car, a red Honda Civic with over a hundred thousand miles on it, and glanced around again. No one. The hair salon, barber shop, real-estate office and other little businesses that ringed the lot had closed for the day. The neighborhood looked deserted.

The drive to Collette's place took her through the older section of town, over the railroad tracks. There, a residential zone of modest homes and low-cost apartments lay on either side of a two-lane road that ran out of town. Beyond that lay the cornfields and, further out, the sun, still blazing orange, about to sink beneath the stalks.

She parked in the lot behind the three-story apartment building where Collette lived and, looking into the rearview mirror above the dashboard, checked her appearance. With her luxurious, strawberry-blond locks compressed into a tight bun held together by a tortoise-shell clip, she turned her head one way then the other, keeping an eye on the glass, and then gave the bun a little pat. Perfect!

Picturing herself from a window three stories up, she swung her legs out, knees engirdled by the hem of a flawlessly tailored, navy-blue business skirt; elegant calves in tan nylons; her feet keenly outlined in a pair of black, four-inch pumps. She stood up and slung a pouched, black-leather handbag over her shoulder, closed the car door, and walked to the entrance, her heels clicking purposefully across the pavement. Be brave! said a voice in the back of her mind. It was the voice of adventure.

She buzzed at the door. Collette's voice came through a squawk box.

"Who is it?"

"Lauren." She leaned in toward the box, careful to sound polite but not obsequious. "Lauren Belmont."

A loud buzzer jolted her like an electric shock. She jumped back.

Realizing that her chance to open the door would last only so long as the buzzer sounded, she pushed forward. The door resisted. She shoved. It yielded. She stumbled inside and the door fell back, catching her handbag against the door jamb. In a panic, she spun around, grabbed the bag and tugged. The bag came loose and the door finished its ponderous swing, locking into place like the portcullis of a medieval fortress.

Panting, she peered into the shadowy interior. Had anyone seen her? She looked around. The foray appeared empty. Thank heaven. With fears of embarrassment subsiding, she detected the smell of thread-bare carpets and aged woodwork. A metallic click sounded three stories above.

"Come right up!" a woman's voice echoed in the stairwell. It was Collette.

In an apricot blouse, black slacks and white running shoes, the founder of "Collette's Magic Show" could have passed for an ordinary housewife. Gone were the knee-high boots, gone the flashy red cape.

"You didn't see anyone down there, did you?" she asked.

"N-no," Lauren replied, puzzled. She thought of remarking on the weight of the door but heard the voice of prudence: Don't even go there.

Collette stuck her head into the hallway and held it there a moment, ears cocked.

"Are you expecting someone?" Lauren asked meekly.

Collette pulled her head back in and locked the door. "Just you," she smiled.

Despite the casualness of her attire, she'd lost none of her on-stage charm. Of regal stature, she had exquisitely arched eyebrows; a slender, aristocratic nose; full, sensual lips; and large, chestnut-brown eyes, all of which, if anything, made an even stronger impression in this more intimate setting.

Turning back to the door, she slid a deadbolt into place. "Shall we go to the living room?"

In the living room, a large desk with a computer stood along the far wall. To the right were two windows overlooking the parking lot and, to the left, a kitchenette. Along the near wall, somewhat behind them as they entered, stood a magnificent, full-length sofa.

"Have a seat," Collette said, gesturing at the sofa.

The cushions yielded like palm fronds from paradise. "Nice!" Lauren exclaimed, running a hand over the fabric of sapphire-blue velvet.

"I found it on eBay," Collette remarked. "When Miss Michaels and I moved in here two years ago, we had no furniture at all."

Comfortably perched, her knees now somewhat higher than her waist, Lauren crossed her legs. Great! Embedded in the sofa, she could present the interviewee with a full, frontal view of her calves and feet-just like a seasoned anchorwoman. Smart. Competent. Professional.

"So you and Paige share the apartment?"

"Not anymore. She's moved in with a boyfriend." Collette sounded terse all of a sudden.

Lauren recalled Miss Michaels and the man at the fair, smooching behind the circus tent.

"You might want a glass of water for later," Collette suggested. "It'll keep your throat from going dry."

"Thank you," Lauren answered. "Mind if I use this?" She removed a digital voice recorder from the handbag.

Heading for the kitchenette, Collette waved a hand in the air. "Go right ahead."

She returned with two glasses of water with ice cubes and set one glass on the table beside the sofa. The other she set at the foot of a tall-backed, upholstered armchair facing the sofa. She sat down in the chair.

"Well!" she said, placing the tips of her slimly elegant fingers together. "I'm ready if you are."

Lauren leaned forward. Remember, she thought, be insightful and penetrating but sensitive too and, above all, empathetic. "Let's start with how you got into magic," she smiled, her pen at the ready, poised above a notebook.

Collette sounded a bit stiff at first. No doubt, she'd rehearsed her replies, Lauren thought. But, as night fell, blackening the window panes, the magician appeared to loosen up, relax and grow more candid, and they became more like two women just chatting.

"I've noticed one thing," Lauren observed.

"Yes?" said Collette.

"Magic seems to be a man's profession, except for the assistants, all of whom are women. Why is that?"

"Oh…" Collette mused, holding her head back. "It might be a yin-and-yang kind of thing: man as actor, woman as acted upon."

Lauren frowned. "That's something of a stereotype, isn't it?"

"Perhaps," Collette answered. "But every stereotype has some truth to it, don't you think?"

Lauren nodded, feigning agreement. She had no love for sexist stereotypes.

"I mean," Collette went on, "it's the sperm that penetrates the egg, not the other way around. I see the magician as in the masculine role, his assistant in the feminine."

"But," Lauren interrupted, "you're a magician and you're a woman!"

"That's true," Collette answered. "And, by the way, I intend to remain a woman."

The women laughed.

"When I do magic, however…" Collette grew serious again. "I'm playing the male part."

Confused and somewhat frustrated, Lauren heaved an audible sigh. "You don't think that sexism has anything to do with the paucity of female magicians?"

Collette tilted her head back. "I don't see how," she answered. "I personally have never encountered any. My male colleagues have helped me a good deal. And as for the women I've met in this business…" She leaned toward Lauren in a confidential manner. "You know how women can be," she whispered.

Lauren forced a smile, masking her disappointment. She had wanted to work a feminist angle into the book, hoping that Women's Studies programs might incorporate it into their curricula and compel cohorts of unsuspecting undergraduates to buy it. By suggesting the validity of sexist stereotypes, Collette was complicating that ambition.

"I wonder," Lauren said, aiming to steer the interview toward more promising grounds, "if we could talk a little about escapology."


"The art or practice of escaping."

"Oh!" the magician laughed. "Is that a word?"

"It's in the dictionary."

"Well…" Collette cleared her throat. "What can I say about it? I've always included at least one escape act in every show and for a very practical reason: Audiences love it."

"I, for one, found it captivating," Lauren noted, remembering Friday afternoon at the fair. In fact, her curiosity had been killing her.

"I was hoping," she said, "that you might explain how that trick was done. Just how did Miss Michaels manage to free herself in under ten seconds?"

The magician frowned.

A chill went through Lauren. Had she said something wrong?

"I… I didn't mean to detract from Miss Michael's performance," she said. "She's obviously talented. Very talented. But surely there's some trick, some optical illusion, involved…"

"Ms. Belmont," Collette interrupted. "There's a code of secrecy involved. A code of honor, if you will. If I broke it-and I would break it if I revealed a trick like that-the news would ripple through the professional grapevine and I'd never get another gig."

Lauren felt the blood drain from her face. "I… I'm sorry," she murmured. "I had no idea… It's not an important question anyway." She lowered her eyes and began flipping through her notebook, pretending to search for another question.

"Oh, I don't know," Collette remarked, her voice surprisingly sympathetic. "I don't know that it's an un-important question."

Lauren looked up cautiously, hopefully.

"Any intelligent person would be curious, don't you think?" Collette rose from the chair. "Maybe," she winked, "I can show you something."

She disappeared into the adjoining room. When she returned, she was hauling a trunk by a strap-a trunk made of ebony with little wheels beneath it, a convex lid, a black metal frame, and a clasp held in place by a brass padlock.

"My tool kit," she announced.

She parked it near Lauren's feet, opened the lock and pulled the lid back on its hinges, revealing a felt-lined interior. Inside was an assembly of items but primarily rope. An abundance of rope. Bundled. Coiled. Neatly stacked.

"Different acts called for different types," Collette noted. She sat back down in the armchair. "We've used those handcuffs too. Shackles. Chains. Padlocks. In fact, everything in there has been used at least once."

"On Miss Michaels?"

"And her predecessors," Collette nodded.

Lauren gazed into the trunk, fascinated for some reason, and then she remembered something.

Years before, in college, she had undertaken to write a romance novel in which the heroine got tied up. To get a feel for what that experience might be like, she had, one evening, in the privacy of her dorm room, tried to tie herself up.

And you remember how THAT went, the voice of memory snickered.

How could she forget? Even now, the sound of footsteps in the hallway came vividly back-a possible intruder approaching. Alarmed, she ripped the strip of duct tape, the "gag," off her mouth, flung it crumpled into a wastepaper basket, and slid into bed.

Having trussed herself up from shoulders to ankles, her left arm securely fastened behind her, she had only her right arm to work with. In desperation, she yanked a blanket up. Thus covered from the foot of the bed to her chin, she waited with bated breath, listening as the key turned in the lock and the door opened.

"Lauren!" exclaimed Liz, her roommate. "You're in bed?"

"I'm a little tired."

"Sarah and Becky are at Hell's Gate with some football players. I'm going to join them. We're having pizza and beer." Liz opened a desk drawer. "It's a bit early to be in bed, don't you think?"

"I've had a long day."

Liz glanced at her in the mirror above the desk. "What's with the heavy blanket?"

"I… I think I'm coming down with a fever."

Liz, a pre-nursing student, now turned to her. "You don't think it's strep, do you? Because if it's strep…"

Lauren sighed. "It's not strep."

"Are you sure?" Liz stared. "How do you know? Have you seen a doctor?" Then puzzlement appeared in her face, as if something bizarre had just caught her eye.

"What is it?" Lauren asked, her heart slamming against her rib cage.

"There's a mark around your mouth."

"A mark?"

"A pinkish patch on the skin." Liz took a step closer to get a better look.

The wastepaper basket into which Lauren had flung the duct tape stood only a few feet to her right. If she happened to look that way…

But she was riveted on Lauren's face, tilting her head one way then the other, like a parrot fascinated with a strange object.

"It might be a reaction," Lauren suggested. "I tried a new skin cream this afternoon."

Liz furrowed her brow. "How odd!" she exclaimed. "It's rectangular."

"Oh, stop it!" Lauren snapped, exasperation, anger and panic all roiled together.

She dared not move, however. Any movement would upset the blanket, exposing her bonds.

Liz backed off, surprised-and hurt. They'd been getting along well that semester, until now. Then shock turned into resentment.

"Maybe you should be rooming in a psych ward," Liz said.

And with that snippy suggestion, she turned and departed, later, no doubt, to share her resentment with Sarah and Becky and who knows whom else. Her relationship with Lauren never recovered.

"Ms. Belmont?"

The sound of her name broke through.


Lauren looked up, startled to see Collette's face only inches from her own. "Sah… sorry!" she smiled sheepishly.

Collette pulled back. "I don't believe you've heard a word I've said."

"About Miss Michaels? Her predecessors?"

"That was two minutes ago."


"Yes, really!"

Collette stared at her, perplexed. Although the windows were closed, what with the air-conditioning on, the plaintive sound of crickets singing in the tall grass around the parking lot penetrated the room. A kind of sadness came into Collette's eyes, softening her countenance.

"You're a beautiful woman," she said.

Lauren blinked.

"Yes, a beautiful woman. And I'd like to know what you were thinking. You looked so… wistful."

Aware of a certain dampness in the pits of her arms, Lauren shifted uneasily on the sofa. She had never told anyone about that crazy dorm-room experience; the right occasion had never arisen. But now, here…

"What was it?" Collette persisted. "Tell me."

Go ahead: Tell her! It was the voice of adventure.

So she did tell-everything.

"That's really funny," Collette giggled after the story's end. "By the way, did you ever finish that novel?"

Lauren shook her head.

"You will," the magician predicted. "Dreams like that never die."

Lauren nodded mechanically. She felt drained. Telling the story had opened an enormous floodgate, releasing emotions that she had left behind long ago-or thought she had.

"Hey…" Collette leaned toward her, tender, concerned. "What's the matter?"

Lauren turned away, averting her eyes. "I lost a friend," she said. "I guess that's it."

"You mean Liz?" Collette frowned. "Pooh on Liz!"

Lauren chuckled albeit sadly, envisaging her old roommate fading into the darkness of the past until all she was aware of was Collette's voice murmuring on comfortingly, soothingly.

"I was thinking…" she said. "If you're going to write a chapter on… What did you call it?"


"Yes, that's it. If you're going to write about it, you should probably do it from more than a cold, clinical perspective."

Lauren looked up, her curiosity piqued.

"Would you like me to introduce you to the ropes?"

"Introduce me?"

"I mean," Collette winked. "Would you like to do that dorm-room experience over again-only right this time?"

"You…" Lauren's voice faltered. She took a drink of water. "You're asking me, would I like to be tied up? Right here? Now?"

"I'd love to do the tying, sweetie."

Lauren felt her stomach flutter. "For the book, you mean?"

"Of course. For the book."

Why not? Lauren thought. It made sense.

Are you crazy? It was the voice of prudence talking. Tied up? By a stranger? In a stranger's apartment?

Collette wasn't exactly a stranger anymore, Lauren countered.

Oh, yeah? What do YOU know?

"Stand up, sweetie, and face the wall." It was Collette's voice again, charming, friendly, seductive.

Lauren stood up.

"Pretend you're the heroine of the novel," Collette whispered. "I'll be the bad guy."

Lauren chuckled. What a silly idea! Still, it imparted to the proceedings a certain undeniable thrill.

Behind her back, she felt her wrists in the magician's hands, crossed, one over the other, and then the rope wrapped around them. Glancing downward, she spied a hefty coil of rope, its hempen body limp and heavy, slumping over the lip of the trunk like a slumbering boa constrictor.

"You're not going to use all of that, are you?"

"You bet I am," Collette replied. "I'm going to put you into a full-body bind. For most practical purposes, it's as immobilizing as a hogtie. Just relax now. You seem a bit tense."

After binding her wrists, Collette drew the rope around Lauren's tummy, fixing her hands to the small of her back. "I must tie Miss Michaels this way," Collette noted. "It's an absolute necessity with her. Unless her hands are fastened to her back, she's likely to slip them underneath her and up, out in front, and then work the knot loose with her teeth. I doubt you could do that."

"Oh?" Lauren turned her head to the side. "And just what do you mean by that?"

"I mean that Miss Michaels, with her physique, could out-weasel a weasel, while you, Ms. Belmont, have the body of a maturely beautiful woman."

"I've got a big ass, you mean."

"A big, beautiful ass," Collette replied.

A knot was tied somewhere behind her, securing her bound hands just above the slope of her butt. "Sit," Collette ordered.

Lauren turned around and lowered herself, sinking back into the plush upholstery, her hands now sandwiched between her back and the back of the sofa. Collette knelt in front of her and, with a separate length of rope, proceeded to tie her feet.

She wrapped loosely at first, the double-stranded rope going around just above the ankles, half a dozen times. When cinched, however, the bond constricted into two cuff-like grips, one around each ankle.

"That's not too tight, is it?" Collette asked.

"It's comfy," Lauren replied.

Handling the rope ends, Collette tied a square knot-left over right, right over left-leaving it to sit like a bauble atop the bond, the rope ends hanging over the tops of Lauren's feet like tassels.

"You'll notice," Collette observed, "it takes time to tie someone up. When I use this particular method, I have the subject bound before the curtain rises. That way, the audience doesn't get bored watching."

Bored? Lauren had never been more excited in all her life.

"If your fingers or toes start tingling, tell me," Collette said. "And I'll loosen the ropes. Now slide up a little."

Lauren jerked herself forward, her behind inching toward the sofa's edge until her knees jutted far out.

Carefully, methodically, Collette wrapped rope around Lauren's legs, above and below the knees; around the thighs just beneath the buttocks; and further up, around the waist and torso. She used a continuous length of rope, wrapping, lacing up, frapping and cross-tying, again and again as she ascended. By the time she finished, Lauren felt like a mermaid in a fisherman's net, embraced from shoulders to ankles.

"As you can see," Collette pointed out, standing in front of the sofa now, arms folded. "It's not so much the quantity of rope that's crucial-although a certain minimum is required-but the way it's applied. Go ahead," she prodded. "Wiggle around a bit. Try to get out of that."

Lauren made a feeble effort, privately shocked at the extent to which she'd been rendered helpless.

"Come on," Collette chided. "You're not trying."

"I am!" Lauren protested.

Indeed she was. But even as she ramped up her efforts, twisting and turning, pulling and tugging, the ropes maintained a stingy grip, yielding nothing. Furthermore, her own perspiration began to act like glue. Dampening the fabric of her nylons and blouse, it held her calves and thighs more firmly together while sealing her arms to the contours of her torso.

"I'm stymied," she declared.

"Your bonds are mutually reinforcing," Collette explained. "That's an essential feature of the full-body bind."

Peeping over the soft knoll of her bosom, Lauren noticed how the cross-ties worked, rope pulling up in one spot, down in another, howsoever she moved. It was all of a piece, too-a single network of bonds that constricted around her in various ways and in separate places, depending on where and how she tested it.

Suddenly, from beneath the ropes crisscrossing her pelvic region, a pleasurable ache emerged like the pale emanation of some luminous sea creature piercing the darkness of an unplumbed ocean. She gasped, froze, and remained frozen.

"What's the matter?" Collette asked, concerned. "Are the ropes too tight?"

Lauren shook her head. "No. It's not that." She forced a smile but remained still as a statue, afraid to move lest any movement trigger a revival of the worrisome sensation.

"You're not uncomfortable, are you?" Collette persisted.

"I'm fine," Lauren assured her, heart pounding. "I…" What would be a good diversion?

"I was just considering that you could leave me like this all night, and I don't think I could get out of it."

Collette laughed. "Don't think? Believe me, dear, you couldn't get out of it. Not even Miss Michaels could. Not in ten seconds. Not in ten hours."

Lauren cocked her head. "So you're admitting it now," she said drolly. "There really is a trick to this escape stuff."

"And it's a trade secret," Collette winked.

Lauren laughed, albeit still on guard-on guard against a recurrence of that…

Disturbing sensation. She knew what it was; she recognized it. It was sexual arousal, just a hint of it, to be sure, but unmistakable. What did it mean? She had imagined that being tied up would be exciting, but erotically exciting?

Then something inside the trunk caught her eye. "What's that?" she asked.

"This?" Collette lifted up the strange object-a black leather strap with a silver buckle at one end, a red ping-pong-like ball in the middle, and two silver rings on either side of the ball.

"It's a gag," Collette replied. "A ballgag. I used it once on stage but some people objected."

"Objected? Why?"

"Who knows?" Collette shrugged. "It's associated with adult entertainment, I suppose." She jiggled the strap. "Shooting semi-automatic weapons is a constitutional right but wearing a ballgag is considered obscene. Does that make sense?"

Lauren giggled, still focused on the weird device. "It does look a bit wicked, doesn't it?"

Collette looked at it. "Oh, I don't know. It serves its purpose."

She looked back at Lauren and a dark smile crept onto her face. "You wouldn't want to…" the magician arched her eyebrows, "try it, would you?"

Lauren's stomach fluttered. The very thought sent a tingle up her spine, a strangely pleasurable tingle.

"You don't have to," Collette went on. "We used it only once on stage and I'll never use it again. I want a family-friendly show, you know." She started to lower the device back into the trunk.

"Wait!" Lauren protested. "I think maybe I ought to try it."

"Ought to?"

"Miss Maddox was gagged."

Collette looked perplexed.

"The heroine of my novel."

"Ah!" Collette exclaimed. "But of course."

Digging a knee into the sofa, she leaned in behind and adopted a growly voice. "Miss Maddox, I'm afraid I'll have to gag you."

Lauren giggled, bending forward, getting a good whiff of Collette's scent.

The red ball went into her mouth, half-buried between her teeth, her lips making an air-tight seal around the rubbery orb. Somewhere behind her neck, the buckle was adjusted, tightening the straps against her cheeks. Collette withdrew.

"Well?" she asked. "How does that feel?"

THAT felt big. Shockingly big. Like the rump of a rhinoceros crammed between her tongue and palate. And it had no give; pushing her tongue against it was like pushing against a granite wall.

"Mmmmph! Mmmmph!" Lauren replied.

Standing in front of the sofa, arms akimbo, Collette gloated above her. "Is that all you can say?"

Lauren scowled back up, feigning displeasure.

"I'll take that as an okay," Collette added. "Mmmph for O. Mmmph for KAY."

It was at this point that the buzzer in the vestibule sounded. Collette sat up straight as a ramrod. The buzzer sounded again.

"Mmmph, mmmph, mmph, mmmph?" moaned Lauren, meaning "Who could that be?"

Collette ignored her.

Pushing up from the chair, she dashed toward the vestibule, Lauren craning her neck around, ears cocked. Collette spoke into the squawk box.

"Who is it?"

A woman answered caustically. "Who do you think it is?"

"It's late," said Collette.

"Open up," said the stranger.

"One moment, please."

Collette reappeared, her eyes unnaturally wide. "Can you hop?"

Lauren gaped back. Hop? Hop WHERE?

"There." Collette nodded at the door to the adjoining room. "Come on. I'll help."

Lauren leaned forward and pushed up off the sofa, onto her feet. Safely caged between Collette's arms, she began hopping. Once. Twice. A third time.

Like a pogo jumper, she progressed across the carpeted floor, the first hop being the hardest. Once she got a rhythm going, the hopping got easier and, in Collette's hands, there was no real danger of falling.

Thank heaven, though, she was wearing an encapsulated bra! Without elastic support, her breasts would have been bouncing up and down like a pair of water balloons. Even so, each jump, each landing, caused a substantial amount of jiggling, which would have been deeply embarrassing, had the situation not been so obviously desperate.

In an awkward kind of dance, they passed the kitchenette, Lauren hopping forward, Collette backing up in front of her, buttressing her from both sides. With the seventh or eighth hop, Collette flung a hand out and shoved on the door. It banged against the wall and came back at them.

"Damn it!" she cursed.

She pushed it once more, less forcefully this time. Lauren hopped into the room, spotting a double bed just a few feet away. "There!" Collette pointed at it.

Panting, nearly out of breath, Lauren bent her knees once more and, making a superlative effort, pushed up again, launching herself toward the bed. She landed beside it, teetering but still on her feet, prevented from toppling onto the mattress by Collette's steady hands.

"Careful, steady," the magician whispered as Lauren regained her balance. "Now turn around."

Huffing above the gag, Lauren pushed up on the balls of her feet, raising her stilettoes an inch above the carpeted floor, and pivoted on the soles of her shoes, executing a jerky but effective 180-degree turn. It was with vast relief that, finally, she was able to sit down and plant her buttocks firmly-and safely-onto the comforter blanketing the mattress.

"Just stay quiet," Collette whispered.

Lauren nodded, eyes wide above the gag, heart pounding.

"This'll be over in a minute."

Like a whirling top, the magician spun around and rushed away, slammed the door behind her, and-Lauren imagined-raced back to the vestibule. On the other side of the wall, from across the living room, the buzzer sounded again, followed by that awful voice.

"Let me in, damn it! Let me in!"

To Be Continued...

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