Branded sanctuary, p.15
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       Branded Sanctuary, p.15

         Part #7 of Nature of Desire series by Joey W. Hill
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Page 15


  A t his look of surprise, she inclined her head. Youve let go, surrendered to me, but our shared history kept me from going over ground that wasnt mine to plow. Youre going to have to tear yourself open to let a lover see whats there. Where there are no rules or etiquettes. Where you have to risk everything you are in a way you cant even see right now. Will that person be Chloe? Or will you hold yourself from her? Only let her see a part of who you are?

  I cant lie to her, he admitted after a long moment. If I thought I could be everything she needed without it, maybe I could keep it secret, but it feels wrong. What she needs is a hundred and twenty percent of myself, not bits and pieces like a puzzle with parts missing.

  A nd by doing that, shell have the chance to handle each piece, feel the edges and curves, and decide if she fits in the same picture. Give her that chance, Brendan. Dont treat her like glass.

  Swallowing, he let his gaze course over the stage. The grail prop sat on a dais. During the performance, it would be brilliantly lit among all that darkness. Hed always liked the idea of being one of the knights seeking that grail. Damn it, if he didnt know anything else, he knew Chloe needed him right now. A nd if what she needed was for him to be braver than hed been before, then so be it. Hed go on the quest, even knowing the grail would always elude him, because that wasnt the point.

  He lifted his burning gaze to Marguerite, his chest so constricted he could barely get the words out. I thought about asking you to invite her to your annual carnival. There. Hed said the ridiculous. He lifted a shoulder. I know she knows something of your world outside the tea room. Will you invite her?

  While he couldnt tell for sure from her expression, he was pretty sure she had some reservations about the idea. But he was too wound up to retract it or suggest anything different. He expected her to deny him, tell him why she would refuse, but at length, she spoke. Come back to Tea Leaves this evening and issue her the invitation, on my behalf.

  He let out a breath that still managed to claw at his insides. Hed committed himself. The chaotic storm that had been brewing in his mind and gut most the day died back at last, though it felt as if hed gone through a fully draining, three hour dungeon session, where he wasnt sure what hed done or who he was now.

  A s Marguerite rose, obviously preparing to leave, he knew he needed to say one more thing. Something less difficult to say, but not less difficult to accept. Mistress, theres more that happened that day. A t the tea room. With yourwhen she was attacked. She wont say what, but its there.

  Her lips tightened. I know. Her emotions have dammed up. We cant seem to break things loose in her. Shes protecting us so hard, shes formed a barricade. But youshes willing to strike out, reach out. Her gaze lingered on his face and he realized one of Chloes flailing hands must have caught him well enough to leave a bruise. If she has a different bridge to cross, such as learning more about you and what you can offer her, it may break things up further. She wont be so focused on keeping everything in.

  A n ironic smile touched her lips, this lovely, difficult woman who was the closest thing to a family he had. The tenderness behind that smile, the trace of sadness in her gaze as she looked down at him, as if seeing a path she wished she could keep him from taking, only underscored that she loved him as he loved her. Fiercely and unconditionally. It steadied him, despite the fact her parting words created more than a little trepidation.

  I know you dont want to hurt her, Brendan, but I want you to remember something. Sometimes loving someone means not letting them hide from themselves. It means they need to experience pain to heal. Dont underestimate your own knowledge of that, she said softly. Because the only one who understands that better than a Mistress is her slave.

  Chapter Seven

  Gen, Im about to head out, Chloe called out as she collected her tote bag from the back. Shed stuffed a variety of things in there yesterday, when distracted by Brendans behavior. Now she noted a black tuft of hair, a slip of silk bow, and remembered shed included Brendans stuffed dog.

  Pulling it halfway out, her fingers passed over the playful face. Was it something pitiful, or clean desire, that made this coil of longing tighten in her belly, made her wish she hadnt been so hateful? Shed thought about calling his cell and leaving him a message, but what would she have said? Was she falling in love or in need?

  No, shed been right. She didnt need to be involved with anyone right now. But when would it get better? The first couple months after her body had fully healed, shed told herself anyone would need time to recover emotionally from something like that, but since then, it had only gotten worse. The more she tried to push it away, the larger it got, like the monster in her closet was one of those add-water sponge things that only grew bigger with every tear.

  Gen poked her head into their coat room. You may want to hold off a minute. You have a visitor. He just pulled up.

  Wow. The tide of despair was simply swept away by a sudden, dizzying euphoria. She wondered if she was becoming manic, or bi-polar, or whatever the mental-illness-of-the-month was. A ll day long, shed vacillated like this, between regret and longing, brief spurts of wretched rationality and unreasoning need. With those few words, all of it was gone. Brendan was waiting for her out front.

  A t Gens easy smile, Chloe couldnt help but answer with a curve of her lips. Guess I didnt completely scare him off.

  You assume its all about you. Gen sniffed. Maybe I flashed my tits at him through the front window this morning before he drove off. Or Mrs.

  McGovern did. She was here the earliest. You know she got new breasts for her sixtieth birthday and shes showing them to everyone. Even Marguerite. You should have seen her face.

  Marguerites or Mrs. McGoverns?

  Marguerites, of course. Not even a facial muscle twitched. She just nodded, polite as you please, said they were lovely and asked if she wanted milk in her tea.

  Well, Id believe Mrs. McGovern flashing him long before Id believe it of you. Stodgy old thing. She sobered a bit. I was pretty hideous this morning.

  Well, go say youre sorry. The only thing a man finds more irresistible than a woman whos mean to him is one willing to make it up to him. If hes back, Id say hes in a forgiving mood. He obviously realizes how wonderful you are. Gen gave the tote bag a hitch onto Chloes shoulder, another quick smile crossing her face at the sight of the puppy. Go enjoy every inch of that beautiful man. You owe it to the rest of us whore going home to frozen food and old movies.

  You wouldnt have to do that if youd go out with the guys Ive told you would be perfect for you. But Chloe let herself be ushered out the side door even as she said it, overcome with an eagerness that superseded even her ongoing desire to see the twice-divorced Gen find her soulmate.

  I prefer my own brand of self-destruction, Gen snorted, but she gave Chloe a steady look. Ill be here for about another half hour, okay?

  Chloe nodded, then the door closed behind her. She had one last glimpse of Gens face, caught between hope and worry. It made her stop on the bottom step despite her eagerness, testing that positive feeling rolling through her. It felt strong and real. It was a feeling shed lacked for too long, and seemed in this moment to be solely concentrated on Brendan.

  She really hadnt realized how it had weighed her down throughout the day, such that his reappearance seemed to have temporarily not only lifted that oppressive feeling, but some of her other ones as well. The reservations of a blink ago were gone. She could harbor worries, like those she saw in Gens face, or grab this feeling in both hands like a rope, swing high over that troubled valley. Run with it. Literally.

  He was almost at the garden gate that would take him up the front walkway, but when her sneakers crunched along the gravel of the side alley drive, he stopped to look and saw her.

  Chloe trotted to him, cutting the corner, skirting Marguerites tulips. Dropping her tote, she did as shed wanted to do that very first day. She leaped upon him, tr
usting his arms to come around her quickly enough to prevent disaster, wrapped her arms around his neck and her legs around his waist and put her mouth on his. Instantly, a surge of fiery, sweet sensation went through every extremity, from the tips of her breasts to her lower belly, strumming through her thighs, a reaction impossible to avoid given that she had them locked intimately over his hips.

  He gloriously, wetly, kissed her back, cupping the back of her head and bracing them against the gate, lurching only a little at her first hop. But he knew how to improvise, and he had a quick recovery time, because he took control of the kiss, telling her without question hed missed her as well, and regretted their morning parting. His fingers tightened on her hips and at her nape, conveying his urgency. She wanted it to go on forever, but she made herself tear her mouth away for a vital moment.

  Im so sorry. I was terrible. I dont want you to forgive me because you feel sorry for me. Id hate that. You can say mean things to me, or tell me I have to make it up to you in some awful, vaguely demeaning way. I can wash your car, or do your laundry.

  Though desire remained high in his eyes, humor flickered in them. I wouldnt subject my worst enemy to my laundry, Chloe. I shouldnt have reacted

  Yes, yes, you should have. She interrupted him with heat. I dont want to be treated like some fragile thing. Just because I might be. Thats not the point. Realizing shed tightened her fingers in his hair to distract herself, she saw it had an added benefit. It had given his eyes that decidedly dangerous look. I know how to do other things to say Im sorry.

  Well, thats all you had to say then. Males are pretty straightforward. Well forgive a woman anything for sex. Definitely laughter in his eyes this time, that sexy smile lodging just under her heart.

  With obvious reluctance, he let her slide to her feet, but she was gratified at how he held onto her, bare inches between them. His hands remained at her waist, fingers sliding beneath her skirt, his thumb turning inside the waistband, stroking the elastic edge of her panties. Very subtle, nothing vulgar, a hot, secret caress, so confident and easy her blood remained at high simmer.

  Going to follow me home tonight?

  It depends on your answer to a question. Taking her by surprise, he lifted her onto the still warm hood of the Jeep, bracing his body against her knee, letting her hold his shoulder to keep her there. Do you know about Tyler and Marguerites annual carnival next weekend?