Branded sanctuary, p.14
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       Branded Sanctuary, p.14

         Part #7 of Nature of Desire series by Joey W. Hill
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Page 14


  Then youll be late, she said coolly. Come down here. Now.

  He sighed. Inwardly. Fine. The day could only get worse. Might as well accept it.

  A s he moved to the stage edge, she took one of the front-row seats, crossing those killer legs, her long slim hand lying on the armrest. Though she was a Mistress, a formidable one, she submitted to one Masters touch, and that was Tyler. A s such she often wore his collar as she did now, a beautiful choker of wire and pearls, as much evidence of their bond as the wedding ring on her finger.

  When he approached, she leaned forward, extending one long-nailed hand toward the hand hed used to pummel the hapless table. With reluctance, he placed it in hers. Examining his swelling knuckles, she tsked under her breath.

  She didnt invite him to sit next to her. It was automatic and steadying to drop to one knee in front of her. Bracing his free hand on his thigh, he stared at those feminine shoes, the slim ankles. Chloe had worn pumps for the wedding, but this morning shed preferred a pair of sneakers that were a fading rainbow of hand-painted colors that had seen better days. Her closet was filled with a dazzling array of shoes tumbled together like shiny gumballs, but shed chosen ones that had gone dull with the effects of time and wear.

  Whats going wrong, Brendan?

  Im not sure what you mean, Mistress.

  Hed been the one to slow things down. One intense phone call, a drive to work and an amazing night of lovemaking happening within a two-day period seemed, on its face, a reason to slow things down. But he knew as well as Marguerite did that something was wrong. A s the silence lengthened, his Mistress waiting him out, he wryly reflected that no one could lie to that intent blue gaze, even though he wasnt really lying. He didnt know exactly why he was slowing down. Shes been through a lot. I dont want to force anything until shes stronger. I dont want to make her deal with anything else.

  What hed wanted to do this morning was frame her elfin face in his hands, taste the sweet pink bow of her mouth until it heated beneath his, until all of her heated, proving he could drive the cold out of her hands, her mind, the pit of her stomach and behind her eyes. The day after their phone call, hed thought of nothing but her all day, to the point his students had teased him for his absentmindedness.

  Did you know Chloe had an operation when she was five years old?

  Brendans gaze shot up, but Marguerite shook her head. Nothing serious. One of those things better handled while she was still small. When they rolled her out of the hospital room and toward the operating room, she asked the nurse where they were going. The nurse made up some silliness about an enchanted fairyland. Chloe was an intelligent little girl, and the fact this well-meaning woman wouldnt tell her where she was truly going terrified her. She started screaming and thrashing.

  When she tells the story, she jokes about them plopping a Fisher Price musical toy next to her as they strapped her to the operating table and administered the anesthetic. But you can see the memory of the fear she felt. If the woman had simply told her they were going to the operating room, she would have been fine. Nervous, but informed.

  Brendan shifted as Marguerite continued. Men often make the mistake of thinking a wounded woman needs a lie to protect her, when just the opposite is true. Most of us have a radar for bullshit. Feeling uncertain only enhances that instability. Shes too fragile for anything less than total honesty.

  Marguerite locked eyes with him before he could obey etiquette and sweep his gaze down. With you, Chloe is a different, deeper, more troubled part of herself, something she cant allow herself to be with us. The joyful Chloe still exists, but shes facing that dark side now. No one I know is more prepared than you to guide someone out of darkness, Brendan, because your own demons have never overwhelmed your light. A n A rthurian knight in truth. A faint smile touched her lips as she glanced toward the stage. Then she sobered. You might best serve Chloes needs right now by taking the reins. Show her how to drive the horse before handing them over. You understand?

  He nodded. I do. Id already startedbefore I realized I was going to do it. Which is why I pulled back.

  A t her raised brow, he stared down at his hand, still held inside the brace of her slim fingers. Tylers silver wedding band shone softly in the dim lighting. Shes not natural to it, Mistress. Shes messed up right now. She should only deal with one problem at a time.

  Why are you assuming its a problem? Perhaps its part of the answer.

  Shes not part of our world. Even if I introduced her to it, it wouldnt beinnate to her. I wont make her feel like shes failed at something thats not a test. He shook his head. Im a transition for her, and we both know it. I lost sight of that last night, and I didnt handle it well this morning. Ill call her later, apologize and smooth things over.

  You want her to open up, make it easier for you to fly to her rescue, but you arent willing to open up your world to her.

  The soft stuff, the hints of it, give her some relief, but Im a painkiller, not the cure. Im a way station.

  Youre being a coward.

  His head snapped up. Now he felt the unthinkable toward Marguerite. A nger.

  Damn it, Im trying to protect her. I thought that would mean something to you.

  Her pale blue gaze frosted. The truth means something to me. The entire truth. Have you forgotten that, Brendan? Do I need to lock you in restraints, whip you, brand you all over again to remind you what you owe your Mistress? Dont you ever try to shield yourself by using my feelings for Chloe.

  Miserable need spiraled up from his gut, his fingers spasming on his knee. Hed spent time with this and that Mistress at The Zone since Marguerites marriage, but with all their considerable skills, none of them could pull from him what she could with just the sensual threat.

  Kneel before me, Brendan, she ordered with quiet firmness. A ll the way. I locked the door.

  She didnt have to add that. He did it without thought, going to both knees and locking his hands behind his neck, his eyes down. It was a position hed assumed enough that, once there, a quiet sense of rightness usually settled over him, being there, obeying a Mistresss will. But not today.

  She was poking sticks into places that were ready to snarl and snap to keep things out of those burrows.

  Tell me what you want, when it comes to Chloe.

  I want to make her happy. I dont want her to be unhappy or frightened. I want to be there for her, as long as she needsand wants me.

  Rising, she set her hands on his shoulders, nails piercing enough to register pain. Brendan, what do you want?

  The emotions that rose up hard and fast within him were too difficult, too painful. He dug his hands into his neck, couldnt look at her, even when her hand touched his jaw, a usual command for him to look up. He just couldnt.

  I cant. Forgive me, Mistress.

  She withdrew, a punishment as harsh as a single tail, but her voice was neutral. Youd be risking a great deal to let Chloe all the way in, wouldnt you? You dont want to be shut out right as youve gotten your foot in the door. I assume a foot has gotten into a door, euphemistically speaking?

  The dry tone might have made him smile, and the memory of it might have steadied him, if his gut wasnt roiling. Yes.

  Youre not only taking the chance it could make things worse for her, but also that she may turn away from what you have to offer. You trusted yourself to Tim, and he betrayed that trust. You lost your parents young, and it creates a paradox. A need to find that sense of home in anothers heart, while fighting the fear that its a magic trick. A n empty lie once you step into the magicians box.

  He clenched his jaw. Im protecting myself. Youre right. Im a coward. That wasnt who he was, and he shouldnt be letting his fears or insecurities interfere with caring for her. If I give her what she needs, and she walks away afterward, when she has her feet under her, serving her well should be enough. It should be enough, damn it. I have no right to demand more.
r />   Brendan. Now she tipped his head up, forced him to look at her with a hand gripping his hair. She gave him that look that saw so much, could strip him bare, but she took several moments before she spoke, things in her expression he couldnt read. Perhaps didnt want to read. Submissives of your generosity are very rare. In a vanilla relationship, youll give someone like Chloe everything she thinks she could ever need. Every romantic gesture, every mindblowing sexual experience. A nd without that remarkable intuition of hers, shed never realize, not for an instant, that she hasnt even scratched off the top layer of who you are.

  Those animals snarled and burrowed, but she saw them, saw what he wouldnt face, even now. He wanted to pull away, but he didnt. But she does have that intuition, she continued quietly. It may be damaged, but its still working. She already knows youre holding back on her. You really want to help her? Youre going to have to let her in.

  He tightened his jaw, but couldnt deny it. A nymore than he could deny that Chloe was probably right, that it was a bad idea, one they shouldnt take further. Marguerite might think he was using her feelings again, but he had to say it. She doesnt know how you and I What you mean to me.

  It startled him, spoken so intimately. Marguerites gaze was gentle now, and she grazed her knuckles over his cheek. Youre afraid of how shell react.

  Yes. But He closed his hand on her wrist, a gentle circle, always amazed by how fragile that arm was. She ate more now with Tyler bullying her, but shed always been slim, ascetic. When he met her pale blue gaze, he let her see it, rather than saying it, wanting her to know that this part at least was the truth.

  Youre afraid of hurting me. Marguerites fingers curled, her lips pressing together.

  What happens to your friendship when she finds out? You dont love easily, Mistress. I wont deprive you of even one friend.

  Even for your own heart?

  Its not a matter of loyalty. If it causes harm to you, then thats a message I wont question. Its not meant to be, and Ill let it end here. I can keep being there for her, but not take it to the more intense levels. Thats what frustrated me too. I wasnt thinking ahead until this morning. A nd now Youre already in so deep theres no way to pull out without someone getting hurt. Including you. Oh Brendan. Do you really think that you can keep it from getting inside you?

  He sighed, closing his eyes. You know, sometimes being around you is like being in front of God, confessing sins.

  Withdrawing, she sat back down, but opened both her hands, extending them toward him. Bemused, he laid his into them, closing his hands gently over the slender palms, respecting the great gift of her touch, of holding her. Whether you realize it or not, Im no longer your confessor, Brendan. I think even I didnt realize that until these past few minutes. Youve changed. What you need now is more than a Mistress.