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Branded Sanctuary, Page 29

Joey W. Hill

Page 29


  That will just have to hold you for now, because I have to show Brendan how to do this, so he can impress Chloe just as much.

  Ill be lucky to hit one, Brendan snorted.

  Tyler handed him the pellet gun. No worries. Threes all you need to give Chloe any trinket her heart desires. Take it to your shoulder A s the men conferred, Chloe drew closer to Marguerite, despite her wariness of that earlier look. But Marguerite merely lifted her arm, drew her to her side, much as Brendan had. Letting out a small relieved sigh, Chloe leaned up against her as they watched their guys. A re you all right?

  Marguerite asked.

  Yeah. I am. She was better now, more steady. She could say it without feeling like it was a lie. Its a great carnival. I guess I got a little overwhelmed. I didnt expect to get so carried away or freaked out at once, you know. Brendans been great. Fantastically great.

  Marguerite made a noncommittal noise. For some reason, it made Chloe want to squirm, but since she was looking toward the shooting booth, Chloe let herself do the same. With pure female pleasure, she watched Tyler help Brendan shoulder and angle the gun, a brief press of hip to hip to show him the proper stance, adjust it. A ll very appropriate, and yet there was a component between the two men impossible for her to miss. She creased her brow, trying to identify it. It wasnt that Tyler wanted to have sex with Brendan, or vice versa. No, that wasnt it at all. Tyler was a Dom dealing with a male sub, who was equally aware that the one touching him was Dominant. So the sexual thrum was there, even if it wasnt directed.

  She could recognize that thrum, but it didnt make her part of their world, knowing how to react or handle it. Or what it truly meant.

  M. She spoke without looking toward Marguerite. What kind of friends are you and Brendan?

  Do you feel youve earned that information, Chloe?

  Chloe stiffened. What do you mean?

  Marguerite shifted her stance so she was facing Chloe, kept her voice low. Have you decided what Brendan is going to be to you? Is he a toy youre playing with on the store shelf, trying to decide if youre going to take him home? If you do, will you cherish him while it lasts, or treat him as a toy still, simply because he wont demand any more from you than a toy does?

  Youre angry with me.

  No, Im not. Marguerite studied her with her pale blue eyes. But I do expect more from you. Honesty, and a love given freely and unstintingly to those around you. The lack of one is hampering the other. Cruelty doesnt suit you.

  I stopped. I didnt Goddess, how could Marguerite be in her head, know what shed almost done to him? But she did, Chloe could see it in her gaze, and didnt know whether to be mortified or insulted.

  No, you didnt. Marguerites long fingernails brushed Chloes forearm, a balm to the stinging words.

  I got carried away, like I said. What Ive seen hereI was just fitting in. Chloe realized she sounded defensive, almost belligerent, but Marguerite nodded.

  Its easy to become a chameleon in this environment, if youre not sure who or what you are anymore. But though a chameleon can look like her environment, she isnt really a part of it. She doesnt gain an understanding just by blending.

  Chloe stared at her. You invited me here.

  When Marguerites expression flickered, Chloes mind stuttered to a halt. Rewound to when Brendan had told her about the invitation. No, she realized. Brendan asked you to invite me. You didnt want me here. You

  Im always happy to have you as a guest in my home, Marguerite interjected. But I didnt think the carnival was the best way to introduce you to this part of his life. There was no accusation in Ms voice, merely reserved observation. That was worse, because it left Chloe no real target. A nd Marguerite was continuing, flaying her with the even tone, the far-too-truthful words.

  Youre right, what you said to Niall. Youre not a natural Domme. What you are is an extraordinary young woman, one in emotional pain, trying to regain control of yourself. Either fortune or disaster has brought you together with an extraordinary submissive, one who might let you do anything to deal with that pain. A s long as Ive known you, youve been about healing and laughter, love. A lways love. Its the one thing youve believed in, allowed to lead you, no matter what happened.

  Chloe knew that Brendan was shooting, that she should be watching, but those words were as sharp and staccato as the pellet gun, kicking bitterness into her voice. What if I dont believe in that anymore?

  You dont. Marguerite said it gently, but Chloe still flinched. Which is why youre trying to get it back by using someone who still does.

  A nger welled up. How can I believe in love? Love isnt strong. It doesnt help keep fear away, it doesnt make you feel safe. Power and control, thats what makes you feel safe. I thought that was what all this is about. She gestured around her. Oh right, I forgotI cant understand this. I dont know the secret handshake.

  In all her time working for Marguerite, shed never argued with her, never lifted her voice. However, the frustrated fury was an all-too-familiar companion of late. She had enough sanity left among her turbulent emotions to scramble to hold it back, but her voice had climbed several octaves.

  Fortunately, this corner of the carnival was relatively unpopulated at the moment. Still, she could feel the speculative glances of those nearby at other booths. Great, first she embarrassed herself at the auction and with Niall, now this. The seventh annual carnival would be remembered as the year that Marguerite brought her mentally unstable employee.

  When Marguerite stepped closer to her, closed her hand fully on Chloes arm, she realized she was shaking with the effort of holding her ground, not flying into pieces. Deep breath, sweet, her boss murmured. Take a deep breath.

  Im sorry, Chloe managed, though she wasnt sure she was. She still wanted to scream and rant. She wanted to throw off Marguerites touch, but she didnt.

  With a light touch to her chin, Marguerite drew her gaze back up to her face. Trust and surrender is what all this is about, Chloe. But you dont have to understand Dominance and submission, and people who practice it as we do, to understand that those two elements are at the center of every relationship, the core of what every person who falls in love is seeking with another. My concern isnt so much with you using him to heal, but to fight demons. Careful of the latter, or it may take you down a path you dont want to go, a place that, once youre there, will be hard to find your way back.

  Those words made her want to break, spill out everything, and she couldnt. She was pretty sure once that glue came loose, shed never put it back together again. Hell, why was it she could tell herself she wasnt ready for any of this, and yet she still kept trying?

  I should leave. You probably want me to go, anyway.

  Chloe, I would tell you if I want you to go. Im not in the habit of concealing what I want and do not want from the people around me.

  Marguerites hand tightened on her chin, a seamless transition from concerned employer to that other quality. Chloes body stilled, held by the tone and the look in those direct eyes. What I want is for you to heal. Which means whatever infection youve been trying to bury since you were injured needs to be drained. Her touch became a caress on Chloes jaw as she closed her eyes, unable to face Marguerites. You just have to find that trust within yourself, and surrender to it. Its time, whether you tell me, Gen, Brendan or even that confused cat of yours.

  It startled a half-chuckle out of Chloe, though her eyes were burning and her throat ached. St. Frances isnt confused. He just refuses to be defined by his predatory nature.

  Hmm. Marguerite cocked her head. Chloe

  I have to go to the restroom, Chloe said desperately. Pivoting on her heel, she made her getaway between the tents.

  * * * * *

  Brendan had hit four out of ten, but when he looked over his shoulder to see if Chloe was indeed impressed, hed seen her and Marguerite engaged in what was obviously not a good conversation. Tyler had held him back, tellin
g him with the pressure of a hand and a look that it was best to let the two women finish their conversation. But when Chloe dashed off, her cheeks too pale and eyes too bright, it was all Brendan could do not to follow. However, Tyler kept him at his side as they returned the gun to Jack and came back to Marguerite. The husband and wife exchanged a glance that was a communication all its own, the language that people in love, in perfect sync, shared. People with no secrets.

  Brendan knew if Chloe had followed through on the platform, the orgasm they would have shared would have been intense, overwhelming.

  Physical. The moment shed brought him to the platform, hed known it wasnt a good plan. Shed taken away the gift of intimacy, withheld it, a punishment. She wasnt experienced enough to recognize it that way, and her decisions had been about what was going on inside her, not a loving or healthy expression of the lust between them. Even knowing that, hed have let her do it. Even knowing it was wrong, because his job was to give pleasure, make her happy, keep her in a safe place to help her experience that. He hadnt done what he should have to help her get there.

  A s he bowed his head, thinking about that, Marguerite touched his hair, a soothing caress. She didnt offer such things often, which made it that much more potent when she did.

  Im not going to allow this to continue. I knew this wasnt a good idea, and I should have handled it that way from the beginning.

  Before he had a conscious thought as to the wisdom of doing so, Brendan had closed his hand on her wrist. Mistress, let me solve this one on my own. I dont need you to fight my battles.

  Her blue eyes went to frost and fire. But she inclined her head and extricated herself with a sharp movement and an even sharper glance. Then start fighting them.

  When she moved away, shed added to that weight of immeasurable failure in his chest. Tyler put a brief hand on his shoulder. Shes angry with me, Brendan observed tightly.

  No. Tyler shook his head. Youve been around Marguerite enough to know shes unique in how she loves others. It isnt always an easy love. Ill take care of your Mistresss heart. You take care of Chloes.

  He nodded, letting him know that Chloe was coming back.

  Brendan turned. The young womans face was as fragile as glass, and she looked like she was ready to go homealone. Yet he also had the memory of her heat pressed against his back on the platform, and before that her broken rasping breath after the climax theyd shared in her bed, her fingers clutching his skin. She was seeking that connection subconsciously, even as so many of the other things she did were attempts to push it away.